By Kimberly Harris
Diabetes is a pervasive health issue in the U.S., affecting nearly 1 in 10 Americans, with an additional 88 million adults at risk of developing the disease. The economic ramifications are staggering, contributing significantly to healthcare costs to the tune of $327 billion annually through both direct medical costs and the toll of reduced productivity.
Beyond the financial burden, diabetes often leads to other chronic conditions, including heart disease and kidney problems, compounding challenges for people as they try to manage their health. And as we continue to remove barriers to healthcare resulting from decades of discrimination and structural racism, we see the human cost of how diseases like diabetes disproportionately impact historically underserved minority populations, who are 50% more likely to develop diabetes with a higher risk of complications.
In response to this crisis, and as we observe National Diabetes Awareness Month this November, we can all act to create thriving communities where everyone has the same opportunity to live their healthiest lives.
As the region’s largest not-for-profit healthcare company, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) is advancing a multifaceted approach to reduce costs, increase access to care, and improve health outcomes in Baltimore and beyond.
Investing in Community-Based Solutions
In response to this crisis, CareFirst has embarked on a transformative initiative, committing $10.5 million to enhance the lives and health outcomes of individuals, families, and communities affected by or at risk of diabetes. This multi-year effort involves collaborations with anchor institutions and grassroots organizations, emphasizing upstream, community-driven interventions and preventive care strategies.
To date, CareFirst has dispersed $1.8 million to 26 local health improvement coalitions, health councils, and collaboratives, all working tirelessly to address the social determinants of health contributing to the severity or likelihood of developing diabetes. These investments align with a national health equity strategy led by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, emphasizing the importance of addressing chronic conditions at their roots.
Addressing Skyrocketing Insulin Costs
Recognizing the extraordinary financial barriers posed by a 600% increase in insulin costs over the past two decades, CareFirst is one of 12 independent Blue Cross Blue Shield companies to join forces with CivicaScript and The Civica Foundation in the Affordable Insulin Initiative.
This initiative aims to make life-saving insulin accessible to all consumers for $30 or less per vial starting early next year. It will also lessen the alarming trend of 1 in 4 insulin users skipping or skimping on prescribed dosages due to the exorbitant cost of the drug.
To make a real, lasting impact on the prevalence and effect of diabetes, we must also embrace innovative solutions that open new avenues to creating affordable, accessible, and equitable care while empowering individuals to take control of their health and well-being journey.
Through its innovation and investment arm, Healthworx, and the company’s incubator hub, 1501 Health, CareFirst partners with organizations to find gaps and invest in new tools and resources.
Together with Ryse Health, CareFirst is addressing uncontrolled Type 2 Diabetes by connecting members to providers who offer a mix of in-person and virtual care interactions to manage HbA1c, blood pressure, and conduct timely diabetes-related health screenings. This focus on patient-centered care will improve health outcomes, enhance the patient-provider relationship, and increase the affordability of treatment.
Diabetes presents a formidable public health challenge, demanding comprehensive and sustained efforts for prevention, early detection, and effective management. Through targeted interventions, community support, advocacy, and innovative partnerships, CareFirst remains committed to mitigating the impact of diabetes and improving the overall health and well-being of the communities we serve.
Kimberly Harris is the Director of Community Health and Social at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. In this role, she leads philanthropic giving and drives equitable community engagement strategies throughout the region to achieve measurable health outcomes.
To learn more about CareFirst’s efforts to address diabetes and prediabetes, visit www.carefirst.com/community.