In the time it takes you to read this article, more than $2 million will be spent on diabetes. So why aren’t we talking about it?

Diabetes costs $245 billion per year in America, accounting for 20 percent of our country’s total health spending.
Diabetes costs $245 billion per year in America, accounting for 20 percent of our country’s total health spending.

At a recent conference session on healthcare policy, I asked a speaker a simple but crucial question: Who in government is keeping track of how much the US spending on diabetes and obesity will be ten and twenty years out? Who's in charge of the long-term estimates? The answer I got was deeply troubling.

“No one.”

The current presidential campaign has only reinforced my concerns. Amid all the speeches and debates and policy proposals of this election season, health has largely taken a backseat, and diabetes – arguably our most important public health problem – has been invisible.

This is true, even though Americans clearly care about their healthcare. As Partners for Better Care Executive Director Mary Richards recently wrote, two-thirds of voters say a candidate’s plan to address the future of healthcare is very important to their vote, and six in ten say the same about a candidate’s plan to address the cost of health insurance premiums (Kaiser Health Tracking Poll). Nonetheless, beyond the occasional clash over the Affordable Care Act, healthcare has barely surfaced in the campaign.

If this indifference from policymakers continues into our next administration, I can’t help but worry about the implications. Diabetes affects every state, every community, every voting bloc in America. At least 29 million Americans live with this disease today, and another 86 million have pre-diabetes. Even if this epidemic hasn’t personally affected you, it has almost certainly touched your family, friends, or community.

With national costs of $245 billion per year, the economic impact of diabetes is equally staggering. That means that during each 90-minute presidential debate, our country spent $51 million on diabetes. In terms of overall healthcare costs, diabetes consumes an astounding 20 percent of total U.S. healthcare spending and 30 percent of all Medicare spending.

While these costs are astronomical, they are not inevitable. In fact, it’s actually easier and cheaper to prevent type 2 diabetes than to treat it, and it’s far less expensive to help patients manage type 1 and type 2 diabetes than to subdue complications later on. While diabetes is hardly the only disease for which “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, its vast and still-growing scale makes it especially dangerous to ignore. And unfortunately, the nation’s investment in diabetes is disproportionately low. While its prevalence is more than double that of HIV/AIDS and cancer combined, diabetes receives less than 1/8 of their collective NIH funding.

And so I return to the same question: Why are so few people in government paying attention to the medium- and long-term implications of diabetes?

We see the problem looming, we have the resources and a good deal of the knowledge to address it, yet we still aren’t acting deliberately enough.

As Election Day looms, we need our candidates and future policymakers to take note, to act, to show us that they want to help. Diabetes, like many chronic diseases, affects lives in a way that transcends ideology or party, demanding 24/7 awareness and extensive support. And the stigma surrounding diabetes, which tends to blame the disease on individuals’ poor choices or on insufficient willpower, means that this condition needs a visible champion; a president who fights equally hard for both medical research and awareness, a leader who establishes all types of diabetes as priorities to acknowledge, prevent, and treat far better than we ever have before.

I hope that, someday soon, when I ask who in government is paying attention to diabetes, the response will be “everyone.” For now, the least we can ask is that the answer can soon be “the President.”

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