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Diabetes on the Rise in Pennsylvania

Despite education and outreach efforts, diabetes continues to plague Pennsylvanians. New research shows that hospitalizations for diabetes increased in the state by 10.5 percent from 2000 to 2009. The report from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) and Bucknell Public Interest Program reveals that 9 percent of adults in the Commonwealth suffer from diabetes, and the number is increasing for those in the 18-44 and 45-64 age groups. Diabetes disproportionately impacts African-Americans.

Joe Martin, Executive Director of PHC4 says diabetes is known among health care professionals as "public health enemy number one." The disease is not only debilitating for individuals, it also exacts a heavy financial toll on the community. More than 70 percent of hospitalizations are centered in the Medicare-Medicaid population.

"Taxpayers are essentially footing the bill for the cost of treatment of a majority of diabetes patients — about $59 million in charges for the Medicare side, and $10 million for the Medicaid side," said Martin.

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body does not use the insulin properly, resulting in high levels of blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes occurs when there is a lack of insulin and makes up about 5 percent of the diabetic population. Type 2 diabetes, where the body uses insulin improperly, can be controlled through diet, exercise, and weight loss. If lifestyle changes are insufficient, medication is necessary. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95 percent of diagnosed cases. Martin says that despite the risks, Americans are not taking care of themselves.

"We don't exercise enough, we don't eat the right things, people are still smoking, people drink too much … those kind of things contribute to a population that is prone to developing diabetes over time," said Martin.

Beyond the costs detailed in the report, Martin says that there are a number of ancillary costs that come with diabetes, from frequent hospital readmissions, to doctors' fees, to medication. And the future is looking grim: by 2050, between one fifth and one third of adults in the U.S. could have diabetes.

The full report [PDF] can be found on the PHC4 website.

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