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Hausner, Brewer and Bohlen: Congress Must Renew Special Diabetes Program

Recently, many Americans were shocked when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report predicting that one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

The report, based on modeling data, is clearly a devastating finding for the health and well-being of Americans and a frightening omen for our economy. As the CDC and others look at how to prevent the prediction from coming true, it is important to remain aware that both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are on the rise, and both desperately need our attention.

As organizations representing the nearly 24 million Americans living with diabetes, we know firsthand the emotional, physical and financial burden this disease places on individuals, families and communities. Diabetes is growing rapidly among all populations in the United States, and in the past 30 years, the number of people suffering from the disease has quadrupled. We are even more acutely aware of the extreme financial burden diabetes places on our country. One out of every five health care dollars is spent caring for someone who has been diagnosed with diabetes, while one out of every three Medicare dollars is spent on diabetes.

The national price tag for diabetes is an astounding $174 billion per year, and that cost is estimated to almost triple in the next 25 years. Factoring in the additional costs of undiagnosed diabetes, pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes brings the total cost of the disease to $218 billion per year.

As a country, we cannot afford to ignore these startling facts. We must work to stop the deadly and expensive consequences of diabetes, and we must join together to ensure that successful programs are in place and being funded to help put an end to this debilitating disease.

Fortunately, Congress had the foresight to recognize this emerging silent epidemic, creating the Special Diabetes Program in 1997. This federal program is composed of two parts: the Special Diabetes Program for Type 1 diabetes and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. Together, they have become our nation’s most strategic and effective federal initiative to combat diabetes and its complications.

Since its inception, Congress has consistently shown broad bipartisan support for the Special Diabetes Program. But despite its success, the program is set to expire next year unless Congress acts to renew it this year.

The Special Diabetes Program for Type 1 Diabetes provides funding for groundbreaking Type 1 diabetes research that is improving the lives of those living with diabetes, preventing the onset in others and is bringing us closer to a cure. Clinical research supported by this program has demonstrated tangible results, including delaying the full onset of Type 1 diabetes in newly diagnosed patients, gaining insight on the underlying causes of diabetes and halting or reversing costly complications such as diabetic eye disease.

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians provides for more than 450 community-directed programs, allowing local tribes and health programs to set priorities that meet their needs, including prevention activities or treatment. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. These education and treatment programs have led to improvements in blood glucose control, reductions in amputation rates and improvements in preventing kidney failure. The benefits we have already seen and those we are poised to achieve for individuals with diabetes demand that we strengthen this successful program.

We understand how difficult the economic climate is. But considering the physical toll and economic burden that diabetes and its complications have on this country, a multiyear renewal of the program’s funding represents a relatively small but unquestionably wise investment on behalf of our country.

November is National Diabetes Month, a time for all of us to work together to reaffirm our commitment to ending one of the most prevalent, deadly and costly diseases. The Special Diabetes Program serves as a cost-effective model of how a focused federal effort can produce significant returns: saving lives, improving the future for people with diabetes and moving closer to finding a cure. We see the CDC’s report as a reminder and an incentive to encourage education about diabetes and to focus on funding programs that will protect our future.

Larry Hausner is the CEO of the American Diabetes Association, Jeffrey Brewer serves as president and CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Stacy A. Bohlen is the executive director of the National Indian Health Board.

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