Diabetes Treatments Becoming Costly

Over the past decade, not only have the number of type 2 diabetes cases been on the rise, but treating the disease has become more expensive. A recent study has revealed that type 2 diabetes treatments are becoming more complicated and more costly for the average patient.

Type 2 diabetes affects over 20 million Americans, and that number is expected to rise substantially. According to study authors, “By 2050, the number of Americans with diabetes is expected to soar to 29 million.” Type 2 diabetes is most generally characterized by decreased insulin sensitivity, and insulin resistance, which results in a diminished ability to regulate blood sugar levels.

While significant advances have been made in diagnosing and treating diabetes, such as the HbA1c test, understandings of natural substances that seem to help limit the harmful effects of the disease, and more effective traditional medications, the trend has been that these advancements have led to rising costs. With the extremely high incidence of diabetes in the United States, these costs account for an enormous portion of national health care costs. “The annual economic burden of diabetes is estimated at $132 billion and increasing. In 2002, more than one-tenth of U.S. health care expenditures were attributable to diabetes,” claim the study authors.

A detailed analysis was performed regarding treatment plans for type 2 diabetics, aged 35 and over. This involved information about prescriptions and medication costs, as well as visits to medical facilities and doctors offices for treatments and check-ups. Data was used from 1994-2007.

The analysis revealed several trends that can be correlated to treatment costs. The main conclusions are as follows: “The estimated number of yearly patient visits to treat diabetes increased from 25 million to 36 million, and the average number of medications prescribed per treated patient increased from 1.14 to 1.63.” As for medications and specific insulin treatments, “among visits in which any treatment was given, the number in which only one drug was prescribed decreased from 82 percent to 47 percent. Insulin use decreased from 38 percent in 1994 to a low of 25 percent in 2000, and then increased again to 28 percent. The types of medications prescribed shifted. The use of sulfonylurea drugs decreased from 67 percent to 34 percent of treatment visits, while use of newer drugs such as biguanides and glitazones increased, so that by 2007 these agents were prescribed at 54 percent and 28 percent of treatment visits, respectively.” It’s noted by the authors that the increased use of glitazones and new forms of insulin have increased prescription expenditures from $6.7 billion to $12.5 billion, with this translating to a $56 to $76 increase in cost per prescription.

Given the current strain many Americans are feeling financially, it’s troubling that such a prevalent disease is so costly, and becoming more so. Nonetheless, health is the most important thing, and it’s possible that the increase costs are due to substantially better treatments. The authors of the study acknowledge this, and make a call on other researchers to find a correlation between the rising cost and the potential rising effectiveness of treatment: “Whether increased treatment costs are balanced by improved outcomes associated with these changes cannot be evaluated in the absence of data comparing effectiveness and cost-effectiveness across treatment classes. Our findings suggest the importance of generating new comparative data and coupling this information with clinical and formulary guidelines that contribute to constraining costs, maximizing glycemic control and minimizing diabetes-related morbidity and mortality.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Alexander, Caleb. Easton, John. Archives of Internal Medicine press release. October 2008.