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Op-Ed: The Garden State is Fighting the State of Diabetes

Diabetes is not just an individual disease; it has municipal-level ramifications, especially where there are fewer opportunities for active living and healthy food access

LovettAnderson
Bill Lovett, left, and Darrin W. Anderson

This past week, the New Jersey state Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie took a giant step to curb the impact of an insidious disease. They approved a law that requires Medicaid coverage for diabetes self-management education, training, services, and equipment for patients diagnosed with diabetes, gestational diabetes, and pre-diabetes.

As an organization that is committed to improving the health and wellness of the nation, and addressing health equity, we understand the importance of preventing and managing chronic disease. Therefore, we applaud our state policymakers for making this decision on behalf of the 700,000 people in New Jersey living with diabetes and the more than 235,000 who are at risk of developing the disease. Failure to prevent or properly manage diabetes can lead to the onset of debilitating and costly complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputations according to the American Diabetes Association.

Proper diabetes prevention and management require access to medications, supplies, and training, all of which cost New Jersey an estimated $10 billion in 2016. However, the costs are even greater when an individual has complications, lacks health insurance, or is offered inadequate coverage options. This bill helps those that are Medicaid-eligible get the services and necessities they need and, more importantly, narrows the gap in diabetes disparities and inequities.

Recognizing the importance of prevention, New Jersey and several other states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam, have taken the initiative to require that state-regulated health plans include diabetes coverage. This coverage has proven to be a lifeline for millions of Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were an estimated 1.5 million new cases of diabetes across the nation in 2015. As diabetes continues to rise, state health coverage and Medicaid protections will be more critical than ever.

The findings from the 2014 New Jersey State report, Providing Access to Healthy Solutions (PATHS): An Analysis of New Jersey’s Opportunities to Enhance Prevention and Management of Type 2 Diabetes recommended evidence-based diabetes prevention education. In addition, the CDC-recognized lifestyle-change programs for the primary prevention of type 2 diabetes.

The YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program is modeled after this national program and is a cost-effective way to reduce the risk for diabetes at the community level. In fact, 2.5 million residents in New Jersey have pre-diabetes and this risk is linked to the growing obesity epidemic among children and adults. Children who are overweight are at an increased risk and it is estimated that almost 50 percent of overweight or obese adults have pre-diabetes, and about 25 percent of these individuals are expected to develop diabetes within three to five years of a diagnosis.

At a time when diabetes has become an epidemic in this country, we can no longer afford to be passive. The New Jersey Diabetes Action Plan’s Model for Community Change includes environment, policy and system changes. Diabetes is not just an individual disease, but it is one that has municipal level ramifications especially in communities with fewer opportunities for active living and healthy food access. A healthy New Jersey starts with creating healthy, equitable communities that are embedded in public policies that ensure access for our most vulnerable populations.

Thanks to our state legislators, we are off to a good start.

Darrin W. Anderson, PhD, is the state program director of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids.

Bill Lovett holds an M.A. in education. He is executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for YMCAs.

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