Young people with diabetes face substantially higher medical costs than children and teens without the disease, according to a recent article in the May issue of the journal Diabetes Care. The study found annual medical expenses for youth with diabetes are $9,061, compared to $1,468 for youth without the disease.
Much of the extra medical costs come from prescription drugs and outpatient care. Young people with the highest medical costs were treated with insulin, and included all those with type 1 diabetes and some with type 2 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes cannot make insulin anymore and must receive insulin treatment. Some people with type 2 diabetes also are treated with insulin, because their bodies do not produce enough to control blood glucose (sugar).
Children and adolescents who received insulin treatment had annual medical costs of $9,333, compared to $5,683 for those who did not receive insulin, but did take oral medications to control blood glucose.
“Young people with diabetes face medical costs that are six times higher than their peers without diabetes,” said Ann Albright, Ph.D., R.D., director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation. “Most youth with diabetes need insulin to survive and the medical costs for young people on insulin were almost 65 percent higher than for those who did not require insulin to treat their diabetes.”
The study examined medical costs for children and teens aged 19 years or younger who were covered by employer-sponsored private health insurance plans in 2007, using the MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounters Database. The estimates were based on administrative claim data from nearly 50,000 youth, including 8,226 with diabetes.
Medical costs for people with diabetes, the vast majority of whom are adults, are 2.3 times higher than costs for those without diabetes, according to CDC’s National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2011. Authors of the Diabetes Care study suggest that the difference in medical costs associated with diabetes may be greater for youth than for adults because of higher medication expenses, visits to specialists and medical supplies such as insulin syringes and glucose testing strips.
Among youth with diabetes, 92 percent were on insulin, compared to 26 percent of adults with diabetes. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps convert blood glucose into energy. Without adequate insulin, blood glucose levels rise and can eventually lead to serious health complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage and amputation of feet and legs.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Risk factors may be genetic or environmental. There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
In type 2 diabetes, the body no longer handles insulin properly and gradually loses the ability to produce it. Risk factors include obesity, older age, family history, physical inactivity, history of diabetes while pregnant, and race/ethnicity. Type 2 diabetes is extremely rare in children younger than 10 years. Although type 2 diabetes is infrequent in children and teens aged 10 to 19 years, rates are higher in this group compared to younger children, with higher rates among minorities.
Source: CDC; Diabetes Care, May 2011