One in 16 privately insured Minnesotans suffers a “loss of good health” due to diabetes, according to a new analysis by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, which adds up to thousands of people who will never reach their full life expectancies or will suffer chronic disabilities.
The analysis, released Tuesday, is based on a new national Blue Cross “health index” tool that estimates the prevalence and cost of diseases in states and counties based on the private insurance claims of 40 million Americans.
The index was created to show just how widespread and how costly certain conditions have become. Diabetes, for example, costs each member of a private Blue Cross health plan nearly $140 per year, the new analysis showed.
Relative to the rest of the nation, depression and anxiety take a bigger toll on Minnesotans, the data showed. But Blue Cross executives said they wanted to use the data to promote a new “Reverse It” campaign against diabetes, because it can be prevented if people are diagnosed at the pre-diabetes stage and if they change their diet and exercise habits.
“Among the one in three Americans that have [pre-diabetes], 90 percent of them are not even aware of it,” said Dr. Glenn Pomerantz, Blue Cross Minnesota’s chief medical officer. “It really is the best bad news you can get, because you can fix this. It’s curable. It’s preventable.”
Type 2 diabetes is an obesity-related condition in which the body loses the ability to properly convert sugar into energy. Diabetes is diagnosed when someone has a blood sugar level of 126 or higher. Pre-diabetes is diagnosed when a patient’s blood sugar is between 100 and 125.
While treatable with insulin injections and medication, diabetes can result in heart disease, stroke or kidney damage.
Adopting a Mediterranean diet rich in nuts and fruits, and adding daily brisk walking, can be enough to move people out of the pre-diabetes category, Pomerantz said.
“Everyone always thinks it’s not them,’’ he added. “Take myself, for instance. I’m borderline for pre-diabetes and it made me change ... my own lifestyle. I used to live on hamburgers and French fries. I think I picked that up in residency ... That habit stayed with me for decades.”
County-level data in Minnesota shows a higher rate of diabetes in the northwest corner of the state, and a higher rate of people who suffer a loss of good health. Pomerantz said the lack of access in rural areas to primary care doctors probably plays a role, so Blue Cross is increasing access to an online personal health coaching program.
Coaching makes a difference, said Jon Frank, who was diagnosed with diabetes 12 years ago but didn’t change any of his habits until he turned 50 last year and started worrying about seeing his two children grow up.
Being accountable each week to a coach at Life Time fitness helped the Plymouth man manage his calorie intake, take walks, and drink eight bottles of water a day, he said. Frank lost 100 pounds and cut his blood sugar level nearly in half.
“I was a walking deathmobile,” said Frank, a college football player who started gaining weight after starting his own fundraising business. “I just knew I had to do something.”
Pomerantz said the physical and monetary costs of diabetes are expected to worsen unless more Minnesotans find out whether they are at risk for the disease and take action. The Blue Cross data showed the health effects of diabetes growing fastest among people aged 18 to 34.
“Our children and young adults are going to have reduced life expectancies if this continues,” he said. “This cannot happen. It cannot be.”