Report: Updating policies targeting diabetes could save billions in healthcare costs each year

Public health policies targeting diabetes could use a serious refresher as the disease rate skyrockets, according to a new white paper. 

The number of patients with Type 2 diabetes has reached nearly 10% of the adult U.S. population, with an additional 1.5 million people diagnosed between 2016 and 2017, according to the report from the Keckley Group.

If 20% of the 30 million people with Type 2 diabetes reduced their HbA1c levels—a key indicator for the disease—by just 1%, it would save at least $10 billion each year in healthcare costs. 

Extrapolated to the 84 million people who are prediabetic, the savings could grow significantly, according to the report. Chronic diseases, of which Type 2 diabetes is a prime example, account for 84% of healthcare costs. 

Paul Keckley
Paul Keckley (Keckley Group)

Paul Keckley, president of the organization, author of the study and well-known industry expert, told FierceHealthcare said managing conditions like diabetes can fall by the wayside as that type of care management isn’t exactly lucrative for providers. 

“This is probably a reflection of neglect on the part of the system,” he said, “and now it’s come home to roost.” 

Policymakers, working with providers and public health agencies, should take two steps immediately, according to the report: 

  1. Update dietary guidelines to reflect that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in this patient population. Any number of socioeconomic and lifestyle factors can impact how useful these guidelines are to a patient at present, according to the report.
  2. Launch a public outreach campaign that makes patients more aware of nutritional health therapies, such as low carbohydrate options, that could benefit them, even if they’re not diabetic. 

RELATED: Doctors can turn waiting rooms into classrooms to teach nutrition to patients with diabetes 

Providers should also consider updating the screenings they use for Type 2 diabetes and include nutritional therapies in their training, the report suggests. New, value-based care models also need to include and cover nutrition. 

“Let’s prescribe diets the way we prescribe drugs, and we’ll lessen the need for those drugs,” Keckley said. 

RELATED: Despite obesity epidemic, doctors lack training in nutrition 

Keckley said that big-name payers are also catching on to the need for better diabetes care management and are investing in programs that care for patients more holistically. 

Payers are well-positioned to lead this charge, he said, because they have a wealth of data available and are already in the business of managing and overseeing other elements of care, such as medication adherence and spending. 

That investment has to extend to public payers as well to be truly effective, he said. 

“Big public payers have to be in the business of managing lifestyle and choices, not just make sure you’ve got beds and pills,” Keckley said.