November is National Diabetes Month, and just like the government stepped in to curb the COVID-19 crisis, we need to establish policies that will help fight this nationwide epidemic.
Diabetes is a chronic long-term disease that affects how the body turns food into energy. My father suffered from Type 2 diabetes and it was a lifelong struggle for him. Ultimately, the diabetes caused both of his legs to be amputated, changing his life forever. My dad was such a proud, caring, and hard-working man, and he did his best to combat this disease, but tragically he lost the fight earlier this year.
He was still young and had so many years ahead of him to live. Having lost my father to this illness has impacted my life forever. Many don’t understand that diabetes not only takes a toll on the body physically, but also mentally. When sugar levels in the body are too high it also affects a person’s mental state. And for those close relatives, it’s difficult to witness the one you love suffer from this illness.
My family is not alone. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. More than 133 million Americans are living with diabetes. In August, Democrats in Congress passed, and President Biden signed, the Inflation Reduction Act into law, capping the cost of a month’s supply of insulin at $35 per prescription for over 3 million seniors on Medicare. This was a huge lift for Americans who have had to ration their supply because the costs were so high. Unfortunately, Republicans sided with Big Pharma and fought to make sure that cap did not apply to those with private insurance.
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant). Type 1 diabetes is genetic, and usually develops in children and young adults, while Type 2 is related to lifestyle and can develop over time, affecting more older adults.
The statistics about diabetes from the CDC are striking: In 2019, 37.3 million Americans — or 11.3% of the population — had diabetes, and 1.4 million are diagnosed with diabetes every year. Nearly 30% of adults 65 and older had diabetes. Many studies have found that Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with diabetes and a higher mortality rate from the disease. And, poverty increases the likelihood of having diabetes.
For many diagnosed with diabetes, it is a daily struggle to try to maintain their sugar levels in control, while having to worry about the cost of insulin. The cost of diabetes is astronomical — according to the ADA, in 2017 the national cost of diagnosed diabetes was $327 billion: That includes $237 billion for direct medical costs and $90 billion for reduced productivity as a result of diabetes symptoms and complications. According to the White House, the cost to manufacture insulin is $10 a vial, yet some drug companies charge more than 30 times that amount, forcing families who are already suffering financially to get into more debt for a life saving treatment.
This is why universal healthcare is so important, as it would be a critical resource in reducing the health disparities that persist in underserved communities and help us achieve major progress toward achieving health equity. Also, providing broader, more accessible SNAP benefits would empower consumers to have access to more healthy food choices — which can help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and help reduce symptoms and health risks for everyone with diabetes. And a guaranteed income program would allow individuals and families to use the extra boost in funds for whatever they may need to help manage or prevent disease — whether it be transportation costs to doctors appointments or membership to a gym.
We also have to consider what we can do for the mental health of those suffering from this disease. There are millions of Americans with this disease, who understand what they need to do to treat it, but like any chronic condition because this is a lifelong struggle, over time it can cause frustration and even lead to depression. Once a person reaches a state beyond frustration, they may not ask for the help they are needing. More access to mental health checks can help empower people to ask for help when they need it.
Looking back, I know now that my dad was suffering — but he hid his pain. Maybe he felt like he was a burden, but our government has the resources it needs to make all forms of healthcare more accessible and boost safety net programs to help people like him. If they had, he might have still been here, creating memories with his granddaughters and me.