Half of Americans facing diabetes by 2020: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than half of Americans will have diabetes or be prediabetic by 2020 at a cost to the U.S. health care system of $3.35 trillion if current trends go on unabated, according to analysis of a new report released on Tuesday by health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc.

A competitor prepares to go in front of judges at a casting call for the second season of the reality television programme "Dance Your Ass Off", during which overweight or obese contestants hope to lose weight by dancing, in New York December 18, 2009.REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/Files

Diabetes and prediabetes will account for an estimated 10 percent of total health care spending by the end of the decade at an annual cost of almost $500 billion -- up from an estimated $194 billion this year, according to the report titled “The United States of Diabetes: Challenges and Opportunities in the Decade Ahead.”

The average annual health care costs in 2009 for a person with known diabetes were about $11,700 compared with about $4,400 for the non-diabetic public, according to new data in the report drawn from 10 million UnitedHealthcare members.

The average annual cost nearly doubles to $20,700 for a person with complications related to diabetes, the report said. Complications related to diabetes can include heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and circulatory problems that can lead to wounds that will not heal and limb amputations.

Diabetes, which is reaching epidemic proportions and is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the United States, currently affects about 26 million Americans.

Another 67 million Americans are estimated to have prediabetes, which may not have any obvious symptoms. More than 60 million Americans are unaware that they have the condition, according to UnitedHealth.

People with prediabetes have higher than normal blood sugar levels, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetics often have other risk factors, such as overweight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The 52-page UnitedHealth report also focuses on the growing obesity epidemic as that condition is a leading cause of diabetes.

The authors of the report contend the skyrocketing cost forecasts are not inevitable, however, if the crisis is tackled aggressively, including early intervention to prevent prediabetes from becoming diabetes.

“Because diabetes follows a progressive course, often starting with obesity and then moving to prediabetes, there are multiple opportunities to intervene early on and prevent this devastating disease before it’s too late,” Deneen Vojta, senior vice president of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization, said in a statement.

“What is now needed is concerted, national, multi-stakeholder action,” Simon Stevens, chairman of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization, said in a statement.

“Making a major impact on the prediabetes and diabetes epidemic will require health plans to engage consumers in new ways, while working to scale nationally some of the most promising preventive care models.” Stevens added.

If solutions for tackling the epidemic offered in the report were adopted broadly and scaled nationally it could lead to cost savings of up to $250 billion over the next 10 years, according to the UnitedHealth analysis.

Reporting by Bill Berkrot; editing by Andre Grenon