Diabetes costs projected to soar to $3.4 trillion by 2020

More than 50% of Americans could have diabetes or prediabetes by 2020, at a cost of $3.35 trillion over the next decade if current trends continue, according to new projections by UnitedHealth Group’s Center for Health Reform and Modernization.

The group’s estimates show that diabetes and prediabetes are expected to account for about 10% of total health care spending by the end of the decade, and annual costs will reach almost $500 billion — up from an estimated $194 billion this year.

These numbers are staggering as compared with average annual health care costs from 2009. UnitedHealth Group calculated an average $11,700 for patients with diagnosed diabetes compared with about $4,400 for people without diabetes, based on a report of 10 million UnitedHealthcare members.

The United States of Diabetes: Challenges and Opportunities in the Decade Ahead report was produced for November’s National Diabetes Awareness month.

Strategies proposed to reverse trend

The report also offers practical solutions to help improve health and life expectancy, and methods to save up to $250 billion during the next 10 years, if programs to prevent and control diabetes are adopted on a broad, national scale. This figure includes $144 billion in potential savings to the federal government in Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs, according to a press release.

“Our new research shows there is a diabetes time bomb ticking in America, but fortunately there are practical steps that can be taken now to defuse it,” Simon Stevens, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group and chairman of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization, said in a press release. “What is now needed is concerted, national, multi-stakeholder action. Done right, the human and economic benefits for the nation could be substantial.”

The report focuses on four categories of potential life savings during the next decade:

  • Lifestyle intervention to combat obesity through public health initiatives and wider use of wellness programs.
  • Early intervention to prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes. Evidence shows that lifestyle change can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes by 58% in people with prediabetes.
  • Diabetes control through medication and care compliance programs.
  • Lifestyle intervention strategies for diabetes control, such as increased use of public-private partnerships to develop the infrastructure to scale nationally the results of the Look AHEAD trial.

Estimates in the report were calculated using the same model as the widely cited 2007 study on the national cost burden of diabetes commissioned by the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Diabetes and obesity

The relationship between obesity and diabetes is also covered in the report. The group cites evidence showing that more than two-thirds of American adults and 17% of children are overweight or obese, and this risk is clearly rising.

“Because diabetes follows a progressive course, often starting with obesity and then moving to prediabetes, there are multiple opportunities to intervene early and prevent this devastating disease before it’s too late,” Deneen Vojta, MD, senior vice president of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization, said in the press release.

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