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Special Diabetes Program Saves Lives and Money

February 9, 2018

When I was in Congress, every year around this time I anticipated the president’s budget proposal with concern. Even when the president and I were members of the same party, I worried that issues I care about as a physician would get short shrift.

As President Donald Trump and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney draw up their final proposals for a planned February 12 release of the federal 2019 budget, they should heed a bipartisan call for long-term renewal of the Special Diabetes Program (SDP). While the recently announced budget agreement provides two years of funding for SDP, it would be wise for Congress and the president to work together to dedicate permanent funding for this vital program.

More than thirty million Americans are affected by diabetes, and another 84 million have an increased risk of developing it. This is a disease that has the potential to harm one-third of our population, yet it still often gets overlooked.

Thanks to research at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases supported by the SDP, we have improved treatments for diabetes and are now closer than ever to understanding how to cure Type 1 diabetes. There is a real hope that a child diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes today will be cured before she reaches adulthood.

SDP also directs federal funds to prevention for Native Americans at high risk of developing the disease. More than 15 percent of Native Americans have diabetes, the highest rate of any ethnicity. SDP leads the fight to reduce the rate of diabetes in Native American communities.

Another of SDP’s approach to fighting diabetes is one that is near and dear to my heart. In my time as a physician, I saw the dangers of expecting mothers developing gestational diabetes, raising the risk for both mother and child for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

In addition to the humanitarian arguments, renewing SDP also makes good fiscal sense. Pre-diabetes, diabetes and its deadly complications costs our country an estimated $322 billion a year.

Prevention and research are the keys to containing long-term costs. For example, SDP interventions among native populations have resulted in a 54 percent decrease in kidney failure between 1996 and 2003. Kidney disease is one of the greatest drivers in rising Medicare costs. In this and so many other ways, the SDP shows that humanitarian policy is also fiscally prudent policy.

A modest investment in a prevention program can save a great deal of money by reducing healthcare costs for diabetes and associated conditions such as kidney failure. Sustained progress in prevention and research requires long-term, steady funding, not Washington’s herky-jerky stopgap style of spending – and certainly not cuts.

I call on the president and Congress to make sure this vital program receives stable, long-term funding. Our most vulnerable communities desperately need it, and our children with Type 1 deserve a cure that is within reach.