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Diabetes developments surge, yet cost barrier to care remains

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Posted at 5:29 AM, Apr 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 15:05:47-04

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Cutting-edge technology is helping people diagnosed with diabetes better manage the disease. While the innovation is changing people's quality of life, health care advocates admit there's still a cost barrier to care.

"There have been a tremendous number of advancements for particularly type 1 diabetes and those with type 2 diabetes who require taking insulin," said Dr. Francine Kaufman, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Pediatrics and Communications at Keck School of Medicine at USC and Chief Medical Officer at Senseonics.

Developments in diabetes care have been saturating the market.

"There's new insulin that's available. We've been able to bioengineer insulin. There are new medications, new classes of medications for people with diabetes that are showing amazing results as far as glucose control, cardiac protection, and kidney protection," said Dr. Kaufman.

There's also what's called an artificial pancreas, where sensors under your skin measure your blood sugar and send data wirelessly to your insulin pump.

Nicole Sprader of Waukesha is a type 1 diabetic and is on the waiting list for this so-called external pancreas.

"I'm super excited because it's going to be absolutely life changing," said Sprader, who currently uses a tubeless insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor to manage her blood sugar.

Sprader says she has good health insurance, which she believes is essential for a diabetic considering the constant supplies needed and additional doctor's appointments.

"I mean you'd have to have a job just for that because it's so expensive without insurance. I can't imagine not having insurance," said Sprader.

"The goal would be that everybody can get access, and not only to the technology, but the medications themselves are quite expensive in the diabetes arena," said Dr. Kaufman.

For about two decades, Dr. Kaufman has had a front seat to diabetes care and advocacy, and a large part of that includes addressing access to care.

A report from Oxford Academic in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences looked at insulin prices from 2002 to 2013 and found prices tripled at that time. The research shares that some of the most popular insulin products can cost up to $900 a month per patient.

Other research highlights racial inequality in diabetes technology.

A study of Medicare enrollee data from 2017 to 2019, shows white Medicare beneficiaries were more likely to use a continuous glucose monitor or insulin pump at almost 32 percent compared to Black beneficiaries at 14 percent.

The study lists a variety of reasons why including insurance, income, health care access, and cultural barriers.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which calls for capping the monthly out-of-pocket cost of insulin at $35 with private health insurance and medicare. The legislation would take effect next year, but it still has to pass the Senate.

"We want to be sure that their entire ecosystem supports their efforts because they're working hard to manage their glucose every day," said Dr. Kaufman.

"In the almost 25 years that I've had diabetes, it's been night and day changes and there's more to come," said Sprader.

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