ONE in 10 Americans has diabetes, and if present trends continue, one in three will suffer from the disease by the year 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Already this incurable, chronic and often debilitating illness costs the country's health care system a staggering $174 billion a year.
"Diabetes is the noninfectious epidemic of our time," said Dr. Ronald Loeppke, vice chairman of U.S. Preventive Medicine, a company that offers wellness and prevention programs to employers and individuals.
What often gets lost in the talk over rising costs, however, is just how much treating diabetes can cost an individual patient. Even with insurance, people with Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the illness, often face substantial out-of-pocket expenses.
The inability to shoulder them is part of the reason only 25 percent of diabetics are getting the care they need, many experts say. And those who do manage to obtain proper care often have to make steep sacrifices.
Karen Christian, a 74-year-old retired Red Cross worker, sold her house near Monterey Bay in California to move in with her daughter in Vail, Ariz., a small town close to Tucson. Told 10 years ago that she had Type 2 diabetes, she depleted her savings on co-pays for doctor visits and the supplies and medicines that Medicare didn't cover.
In California, she did not qualify for Medicaid or other government assistance that could help fill the gap. "I had enough income to get by, but not enough to manage a chronic illness," Ms. Christian said. In Arizona, Medicaid does cover of most of what Medicare will not for her treatment.
Happily, Ms. Christian's diabetes is under control, and she is in good health. But four years later, she's still adjusting to the move.
"I used to live half a mile away from the coast," she said. "I miss the cool breezes, the fog and my garden. I'm still getting used to the heat out here. But the trade-off is good health, and that's worth it."
Diabetes patients spend an average of $6,000 annually for treatment of their disease, according to a recent report by Consumer Reports Health. That figure includes monitoring supplies, medicines, doctor visits, annual eye exams and other routine costs.
But the total doesn't include the costs of medical complications that often result from Type 2 diabetes, like heart disease, strokes, liver and kidney damage, eye damage and a susceptibility to infections and poor healing that can lead to amputations. The C.D.C. estimates that diabetic patients on average pay twice as much as those without the illness for health care.
What steps can diabetes patients and their loved ones take to bring down the cost of treating diabetes and still receive top-quality care? Here is some money-saving advice for anyone suffering from the disease or worried about getting it.