The rise of diabetes in the U.S. is prompting some insurers to consider new ways of combating the costly disease. In 24 states, including Wisconsin, they're turning to community organizations to help get people to exercise more and eat less.
Faced with a large scale health problem in the U.S., some are thinking small. Big insurers are paying local YMCAs to turn around pre-diabetics: those whose Body Mass Index and blood sugar levels put them on the cusp of type 2 diabetes. UnitedHealthcare Wisconsin CEO Wendy Arnone say medical expenses related to diabetes can cost as much as $20,000 annually, "Because all kinds of complications come with diabetes: eye problems, circulatory, problems, heart problems, kidney problems, you name it."
(Wisconsin Diabetes Prevalence by County, 2011: source http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/diabetes/index.HTM)
The national health insurer is putting money into prevention by covering the cost of intervention programs taught at 74 YMCAs across the country. One of them is the La Crosse Area YMCA. Diabetes coordinator Kirsten Schmidt says they offer a year-long program. The goal is to exercise 150 minutes a week, and lose seven percent of one's body weight. Schmidt says those small steps can have big impact on blood sugar levels.
"Seven percent may seem like a lot to some people, but the National Institute for Health found that just reducing it by that much made all the difference."
The La Crosse YMCA has not yet evaluated the results of its program.