$8.3 billion diabetes cost projection would dwarf earlier estimates

If Colorado’s future holds a double-digit portion of people with diabetes, the effects on both their lives and the state’s health system will be devastating.

And that will impact Coloradans who never develop the disease.

“We’re not going to be able to afford these medical costs or the human cost, if we don’t turn around this epidemic,” said Dr. Sandy Stenmark, Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s physician lead for pediatric cardiovascular health.

The Colorado Health Institute forecasts that by 2030, one in eight Coloradans will have diabetes.

At that rate, the disease will cost Colorado $8.3 billion a year, according to a Health Institute analysis for the I-News Network.

That’s more than triple the $2.5 billion cost calculated by the American Diabetes Association for 2006. The price tag includes $5.3 billion in medical costs, and another $3 billion in indirect expenditures, such as absenteeism, “presenteeism” (reduced productivity while at work) and lost productivity caused by early death.

To put that in context, Colorado’s entire Medicaid budget for 2012 was $5 billion. The state’s entire 2012 General Fund – the main checking account of the state – is $7 billion.

Dr. Robert Eckel, a professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, emphasized the degree to which diabetes patients would clog the medical-care pipeline.

“People with diabetes need regular assessments, more clinic visits, more eye visits, more foot exams, more blood work,” he said. “There is ultimately the need for surveying complications of diabetes including almost every organ of the body, including cognitive impairment. And we’re concerned about the kidneys and the potential complications of end-stage liver disease, and orthopedic surgeons will have an increased caseload…Of course there is also heart attack and strokes.

“There’s a cascading domino effect in terms of the cost-burden going forward.”

Gabriel Kaplan, director of Prevention, Health Policy Systems and Analytics for the state health department agreed, and said Colorado’s current trajectory is “really bad.”

If the fight against obesity, and associated complications such as diabetes, doesn’t succeed, “our health care system would be a lot more crowded,” he said.

“We would find it harder to get to see a doctor,” Kaplan said. “We would find it harder to get into a hospital. We would find it harder to get scheduled for routine services. There would just be a whole ton of people needing services, far more than what we commonly experience.”

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