Congressional Perspective on Diabetes

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Diabetes is having an ever-greater impact on our country, and as a result, more people are becoming alert to its dangers. But we still have a long way to go to ensure that those who might be affected by the disease are alert to it. And there’s a strong need for advocacy to ensure that researchers have the resources they need.

There’s no better time than Diabetes Awareness Month for that.

As the mother of a daughter with type 1 diabetes, I’ve been keenly alert to improvements in treatment and outcomes over the years. And as co-chair of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, I’ve worked with my colleagues to influence the extent to which federal support speeds along research.

But there’s still so much to be done. Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, while 86 million have prediabetes – and most of them don’t even know it. If current trends continue, one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

Living with diabetes can be very challenging due to the serious health problems involved, along with the higher risk of long-term damage, heart disease, and stroke. The burdens on individuals, on families and on our country’s healthcare system are staggering.

Already, one out of every three dollars of Medicare spending goes toward diabetes treatment, and when you combine direct medical expenses and other factors, diabetes costs the U.S. $245 billion per year.

As the mother of a daughter with type 1 diabetes, I’ve been keenly alert to improvements in treatment and outcomes over the years. And as co-chair of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, I’ve worked with my colleagues to influence the extent to which federal support speeds along research.

For all of these reasons, it’s important that we in Congress take steps to increase support for diabetes research and treatment. In Congress, as in American society, there’s a growing recognition of the critical importance of diabetes prevention and care. And that’s due, in part, to the work that many of you do every day.

Fortunately, the pace of innovation is encouraging.

In September, there was a major breakthrough when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a first-ever commercial version of an artificial pancreas system to improve the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

This is a huge step forward for medicine, and it will be transformative for countless people with type 1 diabetes. For five years, I and other colleagues had been encouraging the FDA to expedite its review of this technology.

The technology approved by the FDA for patients ages 14 and up is the Medtronic MiniMed 670G hybrid closed-loop system, which consists of insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors, and software to automate the delivery insulin as needed, as a healthy pancreas does.

Now our work to urge the FDA forward, and to fund the research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has paid off. I look forward to providing similar support to the next-generation technologies that are also on the verge of improving outcomes for people with this disease.

There also have been leaps forward under longer-term federal efforts, such as the Special Diabetes Program (SDP), which was enacted as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Innovations under this program include kidney therapies, eye therapies, immune therapies, and development of the closed-loop insulin pump.

Congress has appropriated $2.46 billion to the program since its inception, and I continue to be a leading supporter.

“One out of every three dollars of Medicare spending goes toward diabetes treatment, and when you combine direct medical expenses and other factors, diabetes costs the U.S. $245 billion per year.”

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) has been particularly successful. Native Americans have the highest rate of diabetes among all ethnic groups at 16%. SDPI funds nearly 400 community-directed programs that have led to improvements in diabetes prevention and care among Native Americans.

Nearly 340 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed on to reauthorize SDP in 2013, and I am urging all to reauthorize it again in 2017.

I’m sure that the Endocrine Society and advocates in the diabetes community will be helping in this effort, as you have for so many years, urging Congress to keep driving diabetes legislation forward – legislation that helps advance research and patient options for care and treatment. Thank you for this important work.

  • Diana DeGette represents Colorado’s First District to the U.S. Congress and co-chairs the Congressional Diabetes Caucus

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