Cases of diabetes skyrocketed in states across the country between 1995 and 2010, and particularly in the South, according to new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the number of diabetes cases diagnosed in that time period rose by 50 percent or more in 42 different states — and by 100 percent or more in 18 states.
And the diabetes epidemic disproportionately affects Americans who live in Southern and Appalachian states. The states that had the most serious jumps in diabetes cases over the 16-year period were Oklahoma (up 226 percent), Kentucky (up 158 percent), Georgia (up 145 percent), and Alabama (up 140 percent). In West Virginia, where nearly 70 percent of residents are either overweight or obese, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes rose 131 percent. In places like these where diabetes cases are especially highly concentrated, the difference compared to the general population can be stark. By some estimates, a full third of the Appalachian region is diabetic, versus just 15 percent of the general population.
CDC officials noted, however, that there is some good news for the diabetic community. Thanks to improvements in diabetes treatments, more Americans may be living longer with the disease, which helps contribute to the increased number of reported cases. But treatment can be cost-prohibitive. Drugs for pre-diabetic or borderline patients can cost up to $100 for those who aren’t covered by Medicaid or Medicare — pointing to the fact that Obamacare’s optional expansion of the Medicaid program could have a positive impact on the nation’s diabetes epidemic.
Governors who choose to expand the eligibility threshold so that additional low-income Americans are able to access Medicaid coverage could help ensure that those with diabetes aren’t forced to forgo their treatment, especially as this public health epidemic continues to spread and affect more and more of their residents. The Republican governors in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia have yet to decide whether they will accept the Medicaid expansion, while Georgia’s and Alabama’s governors have already rejected it.