(NaturalNews) The economy is stuttering and healthcare costs are on the rise. Now, according to a study which was recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, we discover that the annual costs of diabetes treatment in the United States has nearly doubled in a mere 6-year period, from 2001 to 2007.
Findings of Study
In 2001, the cost of diabetes treatment was $6.7 billion for the year. This figure ballooned to $12.5 billion in 2007.
So, what are the main causes of this huge jump? According to the study, which was led by Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, the main reasons were the higher number of diabetes patients, the prescription of more drugs, as well as the shift toward medications which are more expensive.
Two national databases were used to analyze trends of diabetes and its treatment in the country. The study team found that the number of incidences of Americans with diabetes has been on the steady increase – in 1994 there were 10 million, then 14 million in 2000, and 19 million in 2007. That is a lot of people!
During the same period, the average number of medications for each patient has also been rising. This figure was only 1.06 in 1994, but by 2007, it had reached 1.45. In 1994, the vast majority of patients (82%) were only given one drug. In 2007, however, less than half (47%) were prescribed one drug.
Despite the above increases, it seems that the third reason is the one which has played the largest part in the escalating costs of diabetes treatment.
"Although more patients and more medications per patient played a role, the single greatest contributor to increasing costs is the use of newer, more expensive medications," said Dr Alexander.
In 2001, the average price of a prescription of diabetes drugs was $56. This increased to $76 in 2007, and a major reason for this was the use of new oral medications in place of injected insulin.
New drugs such as sitagliptin (brand name of Januvia) and exenatide (brand name of Byetta), which were available in 2007, formed about 8% and 4% respectively of all doctor visits whereby diabetes drugs were prescribed. Now, compared with older, generic drugs such as metformin or glypizide, these new drugs, at averages per prescription of $160 and $202 respectively, cost a massive 8 to 11 times more!
Another problem is, while diabetes patients may be paying more, they are not necessarily getting a more effective form of treatment.
"But new drugs don't automatically lead to better outcomes," added Dr Alexander.
Co-author of the study Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, chipped in too. "Just because a drug is new or exploits a new mechanism does not mean that it adds clinically to treating particular diseases. And even if a new drug does have a benefit, it's important to consider whether that benefit is in proportion to the increased cost," he said.
And the long-term effects of such new drugs, in terms of safety, are not really known, either.
With diabetes accounting for more than 10% of the entire healthcare expenditure in the US in 2002, the questions become all the more poignant.
And Dr Stafford has called for bigger studies carried out over a longer period of time. "What we need are larger population studies examining the relative benefits of different drugs in treating diabetes and looking for these outcomes in people followed over an extended time period," he said.
Such research would give an idea of the safety and cost effectiveness of the new drugs. "Without such long-term data, we cannot be certain if the widespread use of the costlier drugs is balanced by sufficient improvements in health," said Dr Alexander.
What is really needed
What the US really needs, though, is for more people to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to combat this disease. Two of the major risks for developing type 2 diabetes are obesity and lack of physical activity. And Americans, it seems, are scoring higher and higher on these two factors.
As Dr Safford said, "part of the increase is due to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and increasing caloric intake". Most likely, it is a very large part, too.
Some useful changes which one can make to reduce the risk of developing diabetes include:
* Exercising more * Keeping body weight in check * Stopping smoking * Eating more fruits and vegetables, especially raw ones * Consuming more fiber * Cutting down on foods with high glycemic load, i.e. foods which raise levels of glucose in the blood rapidly – mostly refined, sugary foods * Cutting down on one's intake of trans fat and saturated fat