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New report calls diabetes a ticking bomb for U.S.

Half of all Americans will have diabetes or pre-diabetes by the year 2020 – and the diabetes epidemic will cost the country $3.35 trillion over the next decade, according to a report from the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization.

Half of all Americans will have diabetes or show early symptoms of the disease by 2020, and the epidemic will cost the country $3.35 trillion over the next decade, a new report predicts.

The UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization's report, released Tuesday, suggests possible solutions that could stem the rising tide and costs of diabetes.

"Our new research shows there is a diabetic time bomb ticking in America, but fortunately, there are practical steps that can be taken now to defuse it," said Simon Stevens, executive vice president of UnitedHealth group.

Among the report's proposals:

•Institute corporate wellness programs aimed at groups of employees – starting weight-loss programs for those who are "pre-diabetic," for instance. "Historically, we've tried one-size-fits-all wellness programs," said Dr. Deneen Vojta, senior vice president of the health-reform center. "I think what we're beginning to see is good evidence that when there's targeted intervention to a targeted group, we're seeing better results."

Another example, she said, is targeting newlyweds for weight-loss and exercise programs — because most Americans gain weight in the years after they get married.
•Use community organizations, such as the YMCA, to set up early intervention programs. UnitedHealth Group is running a diabetes prevention program with the YMCA, so people who are pre-diabetic can attend classes that focus on lifestyle changes and modest weight reduction. The program, which will roll out nationally in the next year, features classes run by diabetes educators. There is no cost to UnitedHealth members. The insurance company reimburses the YMCA for the class and is calling on other insurance companies to pay for such community-based classes too.

UnitedHealth tested the concept in a handful of cities — including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio — by holding classes at YMCAs for groups of 10 to 15 people who had been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. The patients attended 16 sessions, focusing first on eating healthfully and reducing fat, and then shifting to exercise. In addition, the teacher helped students understand why and when they overeat.

"The big news here is that the consumer is not paying for this," said Tom Beauregard, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group and executive director of the health-reform center. "We're offering this to consumers as part of their preventive care benefit package. This is covered like a mammogram is covered."

•Control diabetes symptoms through medication compliance programs. One idea UnitedHealth is trying is partnering with Walgreens to have pharmacists consult with diabetes patients on a regular basis. UnitedHealth reimburses Walgreens for the service.

Reducing diabetes could cut health-care costs dramatically. In 2009, the average annual health-care cost for a person diagnosed with diabetes totaled $11,700, compared to an average of $4,400 for the rest of the population, according to new data taken from UnitedHealth members.

The average cost climbs to $20,700 for a person who experiences complications related to diabetes, such as heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and amputation.

Diabetes affects about 27 million Americans and is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the nation. Experts predict that one out of three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetimes.

Source: By Linda Shrieves, Orlando Sentinel

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