Disability As a Result of Diabetes Doubles

The incidence of diabetes is rising, along with the costs of the disease, both to those with the disease and to the businesses that employ them.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 18 million Americans have diabetes.  The vast majority of diabetes cases-90% to 95%-are Type 2 diabetes, a condition commonly associated with obesity (among other factors) and one that typically surfaces as an individual ages (although recently, the incidence of Type 2 diabetes has risen in children and young adults).

Diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death by disease in the United States.  According to a report prepared by the Lewin Group for the American Diabetes Association, in 2002, the cost of diabetes in the U.S. was $132 billion, including $92 billion in direct medical costs and $40 billion in indirect costs such as disability, work loss, and premature death.  One of the reasons diabetes costs run high is due to the many complications associated with it: heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputations of the feet and legs.

Merits of Disability Insurance
Disability Insurance

The costs of diabetes and its complications are dramatically felt in the workplace.  According to a 2004 study by UnumProvident of 1.4 million disability claims, the incidence of diabetes as a primary cause of disability has doubled in the last three years.

UnumProvident places the average annual cost to employers per diabetic claimant at $33,495.  The figure includes $3,563 in medical expenses for the disease, $18,695 in related conditions, and $11,237 in diabetes-related disability costs.  Also, UnumProvident found that the median duration for short- and long-term disability attributed solely to Type 2 diabetes (and not including related conditions) was 50.5 days, compared to a median duration of 45 days for non-diabetes claims.

What are the Stats

Though the statistics surrounding diabetes are sobering, diabetes is the kind of disease for which early intervention, lifestyle changes, and proper treatment can make a big difference.  For example, because as many as 5.2 million of the estimated 18 million diabetes cases are undiagnosed, diabetes awareness and education programs can help ensure the disease’s diagnosis at an early stage.  And because of the vital link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes, nutrition, wellness, and physical activity are essential to preventing and controlling the disease.

Diabetesatwork.org is a Web site hosted by the National Business Group on Health and developed in collaboration with the National Diabetes Education Program, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the National Business Coalition on Health.  The site contains resources to help businesses of all sizes assess the impact of diabetes in their workplace and help their employees manage diabetes.  Included on the site is an “Employer Showcase,” which is a series of case studies of successful diabetes education, prevention, and management programs.

In the UnumProvident report, Type 2 Diabetes: Managing a Costly Disability, the insurer notes that employers can play an essential role in diabetes management through intervention strategies.  Suggestions offered by the insurer include-

  • Sponsoring worksite health promotion programs emphasizing weight control, nutrition, and exercise.
  • Offering an employee assistance program (EAP) that provides referrals and access to community-based diabetes self-management services.
  • Contracting with health plans that provide disease management and case management programs for diabetes and that focus on quality outcomes for this disease.