We’ve long known that diabetes and its related illnesses cause havoc in people’s lives and drive up health care costs, but a new study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research has quantified the damage done with a sobering new statistic: nearly one-third of hospital stays by Californians age 35 and older involve a person who has been diagnosed with diabetes.
The numbers are even higher for non-white ethnic groups, with diabetics accounting for 39 percent of hospital stays by African-American and Asians and 43 percent by Latinos.
Think about that: among Latinos, more than 4 in 10 hospital visits can be, for the most part, traced to a single, mostly preventable disease. An estimated 90 to 95 percent of adults with diabetes have Type 2, which health experts believe is preventable. Type 1, which typically strikes children, is not considered a preventable disease.
While less than 12 percent of California adults older than 35 have diabetes, 31 percent of hospitalizations among that age group in 2011 involved a diabetic. The raw numbers: 729,000 hospital visits.
Only a fraction of those hospitalizations are for a condition directly related to diabetes. But the disease is known to cause a number of other health problems, including kidney disease, heart disease, blindness, and circulation disorders that can lead to amputations.
The cost in human suffering is bad enough, but the cost in dollars is also staggering. The hospital bills for those visits came to more than $11 billion, not counting the costs incurred by Kaiser Permanente, whose numbers were not part of the database researchers used for their study. They estimated the Kaiser hospitalizations would add another $6 billion to that total.
The average cost of those visits was $18,691, or about $2,200 more than the average cost for all other hospitalizations.
Researchers believe these numbers are actually under-stating the breadth of the problem because doctors sometimes do not indicate on a patient’s hospital chart that they have diabetes.
The numbers, of course, varied by county, with incomes and ethnicity driving most of that difference. ents with diabetes varies by county, with incomes and ethnicity driving most of that difference. The lowest percentage was 19.9 percent in Nevada County, and the highest was 41 percent in Imperial County. Other counties with among the highest percentage of hospital visits linked to diabetics were Solano, Yuba, Merced and Fresno.
More than 75 percent of the cost of this care was covered by Medicare and Medi-Cal, with most of that going for treatment funded by Medicare for people age 65 and older.
To see the entire policy brief, click here.