As point solutions for health and benefits continue to pop up, it’s sometimes hard to understand what solution(s) might be most valuable for your workforce. Our “Point Solutions Spotlight” series is meant to hone in on one area of point solutions at a time, so you can make an informed decision. As January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, we thought this month we would spotlight a large potential risk factor for glaucoma: diabetes. A diabetes diagnosis doubles your risk for developing glaucoma1, among other vision impairments.

Executive Summary

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic health conditions in the US; in 2020 it was estimated that 34.2 million adults in the US were diagnosed with diabetes (roughly 11% of the population)2. This number is inflated even further when considering those who are undiagnosed or have prediabetes; in fact, the CDC believes one in three Americans will develop some form of diabetes in their lifetime3. Diabetes is caused by both genetic and lifestyle factors, some of which include weight, diet, and physical activity.

Employees diagnosed with diabetes often see their condition affect their work life, in the form of both productivity and absence, because some of the most common symptoms include urinating often, extreme fatigue and a constant feeling of thirst and hunger (even while eating). According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) individuals diagnosed with diabetes spend on average $16,752 per year on medical expenses, $9,601 of which is attributed to diabetes (2.3 times more than spending by those without diabetes).

What is the impact on healthcare spending?

Diabetes is the most expensive chronic condition in the US, with an estimated $1 in every $4 of healthcare spending going towards diabetes-related care. Other top healthcare cost drivers include heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions. In 2017, diabetes healthcare costs were $327 billion, with $237 billion accounting for medical costs and $90 billion in reduced productivity costs4.

According to the ADA, most diabetes medical spending goes towards:

  • Hospital inpatient care (30% of the total medical cost)
  • Prescription medications [including insulin] (30%)
  • Anti-diabetic agents and diabetes supplies (15%)
  • Physician office visits (13%)

The ADA also found diabetes leads to many indirect costs (often at the helm of employers):

  • Increased absences ($3.3 billion)
  • Reduced productivity while at work ($26.9 billion) for the employed population
  • Reduced productivity for those not in the labor force ($2.3 billion)
  • Inability to work because of disease-related disability ($37.5 billion)
  • Lost productive capacity due to early mortality ($19.9 billion)

Our client, edHEALTH, is a consortium of 25 educational institutions that came together with the goal of reducing health and benefits costs for their employees while enhancing offerings at the same time. They consistently review the data, including diabetes, to find ways to help bring the costs down for their member-owner schools.   

What solutions exist?

As diabetes has been the top chronic illness in the U.S. for some time, the distribution of costs for care (mostly towards inpatient care and prescription medications) have not changed drastically over time. As inflation continues to increase and many organizations are seeing healthcare costs rise, savvy employers are moving towards alternative models for addressing diabetes.

Employers who see a substantial impact of diabetes costs on their claims, may want to consider alternative treatment or lifestyle benefit offerings. Some of the top alternative solutions include:

  • Diabetes Prevention Programs (DPPs)
  • Diabetes management point solutions programs, some of which provide:
    • Education of risks and potential treatments associated with diabetes
    • Glucose testing/monitoring supplies and insulin pumps
    • Apps that track blood sugar levels, weight, calories, and other metrics
    • Digital platforms to connect employees directly with doctors
    • One-to-one coaching
    • Meal planning/nutrition goals
    • Mental health resources
    • Inpatient care coordination
  • Health and wellness programs/initiatives
    • Gym memberships
    • Weight-loss programs
    • Providing healthy food options (in the cafeteria, kitchen, vending machines, etc.)
    • Mental health benefits
  • Financial benefits
    • To help control diabetes costs for employees

As an important note, employers may ask employees about health information following a job offer regarding diabetes, including how long said employee has had diabetes, if they need any work accommodations and if they need assistance during a low blood sugar episode. However, under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with diabetes. If your organization is seeing high diabetes healthcare costs, we suggest you revisit your healthcare plan(s) and/or adopt one or more of the alternative solutions above.

What should I do as an employer interested in a diabetes management program?

Employers must first understand the costs and trends associated with diabetes within their population/workforce. If diabetes is driving costs (medical, pharmacy and productivity), employers should consider alternative programs that align with their specific problem area(s). Identifying these patterns is key to understanding the need for tailored approaches such as preventative programs or introducing health and well-being benefits.

From there, market research will be necessary to understand pricing and select a vendor with the best program for your population. Spring’s consultants are here to help with market research, claims and data analysis, and/or a Request for Proposal (RFP) process so that you find a solution that best meets your organizational needs.