As diabetes is rapidly becoming one of the world's most common diseases, its financial cost is mounting, too, to well over $200 billion a year in the U.S. alone.
A new study, released Tuesday exclusively to The Associated Press, puts the total at $218 billion last year — the first comprehensive estimate of the financial toll diabetes takes, according to Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk A/S, which paid for the study.
That figure includes direct medical care costs, from insulin and pills for controlling patients' blood sugar to amputations and hospitalizations, plus indirect costs such as lost productivity, disability and early retirement.
The study, conducted by the Lewin Group consultants, estimates costs to society for people known to have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes at $174.4 billion combined, a total previously reported by Novo Nordisk, the world's top producer of insulin and the maker of diabetes pills such as NovoNorm and Prandin. That study was done with the American Diabetes Association.
The new study adds estimates for people who haven't been diagnosed yet ($18 billion), women who develop diabetes temporarily during pregnancy ($636 million) and those on track to develop diabetes, an increasingly common condition called pre-diabetes ($25 billion).
"Diabetes has not seen a decline or even a plateauing, and the death rate from diabetes continues to rise," said Dana Haza, senior director of the National Changing Diabetes Program, an effort Novo Nordisk began in 2005 to improve diabetes care and prevention in the U.S.
"The numbers just keep going higher and higher, and what we want to say is, 'It's time for government and businesses to focus on it,'" said Haza, who believes diabetes will be the country's biggest health problem in the future, worsened by the obesity epidemic.
Novo Nordisk is to present the data Tuesday at a health care conference for corporate executives and then plans to publish a full report in a professional journal. The calculations are based on numbers from sources including databases on treatment of people with commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, federal public health surveys and other sources.
Andrew Webber, president and chief executive of the National Business Coalition on Health, said the study is the first he's seen estimating diabetes costs. He praised its inclusion of indirect costs, which "add up and create such a powerful argument as to why employers need to take this challenge on."
"This study gives a very persuasive argument to employers to invest in a culture of health in their workforce," Webber said, calling the worsening diabetes epidemic "the tsunami that is coming."
Among people known to have diabetes, the new study estimated $10.5 billion in medical costs and $4.4 billion in indirect costs, or a total of $14.9 billion, for people with Type 1 diabetes, which generally begins in youth and can have a genetic link. Nearly 6 percent of the 17.5 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1.
The study estimated $105.7 billion in medical costs and $53.8 billion in indirect costs, totaling $159.5 billion, for people with Type 2 diabetes, previously called adult-onset diabetes because of its link to the bigger waistlines and sedentary lifestyles.
The National Changing Diabetes Program, which includes medical partners such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Diabetes Association, wants more Americans at risk of diabetes to know their blood sugar level and control it. It also wants the White House to appoint a coordinator for diabetes prevention and education.
Meanwhile, plenty of companies have started their own efforts, said Webber, whose group includes 61 business coalitions with about 7,000 employers and 35 million employees and dependents.
Webber said six of those coalitions are running programs giving participating employees diabetes medicines without a co-pay, six more give doctors extra money for helping patients get their diabetes under control, and one coalition offers both types of programs.
"My guess is we need to do both," to prevent complications and improve worker productivity, Weber said.