The Impact of COVID-19 on People with Diabetes

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November is Diabetes Awareness Month, an important opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges facing the over 30 million Americans living with diabetes. This year’s public awareness campaign of diabetes is even more important given the COVID-19 pandemic. People with diabetes are at increased risk of developing more serious complications from COVID-19. People with type 1 diabetes are 3.5 times more likely to die in the hospital due to COVID than those without diabetes. The current crisis has made life even more challenging for people with diabetes, which is why the work that we are doing to advocate for people with diabetes is so important. With your participation, we have been working to advance our advocacy efforts on the policy issues impacting the millions of Americans living with diabetes.

Here are some of the areas where we have raised awareness in recent months:

Special Diabetes Program and Diabetes Research

The Special Diabetes Program (SDP) is a critically important program that funds type 1 diabetes research and prevention programs for American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN). Funding for SDP has been used to advance new technology to manage diabetes like the artificial pancreas. The SDP has also helped to reduce the complications of type 2 diabetes in AI/AN populations. However, SDP will expire on December 11 unless Congress takes action to pass an extension of the program.

The current crisis has made life even more challenging for people with diabetes, which is why the work that we are doing to advocate for people with diabetes is so important. With your participation, we have been working to advance our advocacy efforts on the policy issues impacting the millions of Americans living with diabetes.

The Endocrine Society has been a lead advocate for a five-year reauthorization of the SDP. In October, we conducted a Virtual Hill Day with congressional offices to advocate for the program. We also hosted a congressional briefing in October to educate congressional staff on the importance of SDP. The briefing featured Endocrine Society member Dr. Al Powers and Dr. Griff Rodgers, the Director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Chief Beverly Cook, a member of the National Indian Health Board and a nurse. We have also launched an advocacy campaign for Endocrine Society members. You can help us advocate for SDP by visiting www.endocrine.org/advocacy.

In addition, we are a trusted advisor to policy makers concerning diabetes research and a vocal advocate calling for funding for diabetes research. We have led efforts to increase federal support for the NIDDK, including delivering appropriations testimony, sponsoring congressional briefings, and participating in the Rally for Medical Research.

Insulin Affordability

Last year, it seemed likely that Congress would pass legislation to address the rising cost of prescription drugs. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Congress to shift its focus to addressing the pandemic. In the absence of legislation, the Trump administration has attempted to address rising costs through several executive orders. The orders issued by the administration are designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs. However, it is unlikely that any of them will be implemented in the near future because they do not carry the force of law and will likely be challenged in court.

The Endocrine Society continues to advocate for lowering the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs. The Society has called on Congress to eliminate patient co-pays for insulin during the COVID-19 public health emergency. We have also updated our Insulin Affordability Position Statement to highlight additional tactics that can be employed to lower insulin costs and highlight our work on this important issue. The statement includes positions and recommendations for policy makers to lower the cost of this lifesaving drug. You can view the position statement by visiting endocrine.org/insulin.

Diabetes Prevention and Education

We have worked to expand programs that promote diabetes prevention and education. The National Diabetes Prevention Program is an important program that that uses proven interventions to delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. This program is also available to Medicare enrollees through the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program (MDPP). Unfortunately, virtual providers of these prevention services can not participate in the MDPP, which limits access for those wanting to participate in the program virtually. The Endocrine Society has worked to expand the MDPP to virtual providers. We recently endorsed legislation introduced in the Senate that would require the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow virtual providers to participate.

We continue to advocate for expanded access to Diabetes Self-Management Training (DSMT). DSMT is an important program that provides training and education for people with diabetes to help them self-manage their care. DSMT is a covered benefit under Medicare but it has been underutilized in recent years. Medicare enrollees have also faced challenges accessing the program virtually during the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic we have successfully advocated for measures from expanding telehealth coverage to providing access to personal protective equipment to increasing funding for research.

Earlier this year, the Society sent a letter to CMS asking them to give Medicare beneficiaries the ability to receive DSMT services from home via telehealth. As a result of our efforts, CMS has worked to ensure that all recognized and accredited DSMT programs can provide this service via telehealth during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The Society also continues to advocate for legislation introduced in the House and Senate that would reduce the barriers to accessing DSMT. You can learn more about these efforts by visiting: https://www.endocrine.org/advocacy.

Diabetes and COVID-19

Finally, as policy makers consider various ways to address COVID-19 and provide relief, we consistently call their attention to the impact of COVID-19 on people with diabetes, physicians treating diabetes, and researchers studying diabetes. Throughout the pandemic we have successfully advocated for measures from expanding telehealth coverage to providing access to personal protective equipment to increasing funding for research. For more details, visit: www.endocrine.org/covid19.

Thanks to all of you who have helped advance these efforts during these unprecedented times. Your voice is a critical component in the work we do to advocate for these issues. For those of you not involved, we encourage you to join us in advancing these important priorities. To learn more about how you can participate in our diabetes advocacy, please contact us at advocacy@endocrine.org.

Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD
President, Endocrine Society

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