The COVID-19 pandemic has hit people with diabetes especially hard, in a number of different ways. People with type 2 diabetes and elevated blood glucose, in particular, are considered to be at higher risk for severe COVID-19 if they develop the infection — which means a higher risk of needing to be hospitalized, along with worse outcomes related to hospitalization, including a higher risk of death.
But along with the health impact of COVID-19, the pandemic has wrought economic destruction among people with diabetes. This economic impact has made it difficult for many people with diabetes to continue to treat their diabetes effectively, according to data released by the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
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High unemployment, worsening health in people with diabetes
As noted in a news release from the ADA, over 34 million Americans living with diabetes are not only prone to worse outcomes if they get COVID-19 — they’re already seeing worse health outcomes related to diabetes.
According to survey data, one in four people with diabetes have resorted to self-rationing during the pandemic due to the cost of diabetes supplies and medications. This effectively means skipping needed doses of insulin or another medication, or testing blood glucose levels less often. The ADA points out that these practices fly in the face of recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to optimize blood glucose control during the pandemic by testing blood glucose levels often and correcting them as needed.
When it comes to avoiding potential exposure to COVID-19, the survey found that people with diabetes are at a disadvantage. Among people with diabetes who work, four in 10 have a job that can’t be done from home, and half are going into work full-time or part-time. Out of those going in to work, 60% are in “essential” industries, including 22% who work in healthcare. Nearly all people with diabetes who must go in to work — nine in 10 — are sometimes or often within six feet of other people in the workplace, and seven in 10 are required to wear a mask at work.
Not everyone with diabetes, though, is lucky enough to have a job if they need or want one. The survey found that in June 2020, 18% of people with diabetes were unemployed or furloughed — substantially higher than the national rate of 12%. What’s more, one in three people with diabetes who were working before the pandemic have lost some or all of their income. These numbers get even worse for low-income people with diabetes, among whom half have lost some or all income. Among self-employed people with diabetes, an astonishing seven in 10 have lost some or all income since the start of the pandemic.
ADA recommends extending healthcare, fewer copays
Federal and state lawmakers should respond to the economic and healthcare crisis shown in the ADA’s survey with some specific actions, the group states in its news release.
“These new numbers show the urgency needed to adopt measures to protect and assist the millions of people with diabetes who are suffering through this pandemic,” says ADA CEO Tracey D. Brown. Those measures, she says, include extending healthcare coverage to people who have lost their jobs, getting rid of copays for insulin under health insurance plans, and making testing for COVID-19 more widely available in communities — like people with diabetes — that are more likely to experience poor outcomes if they develop the infection.
At the federal level, the U/.S. House of Representatives has already approved a bill — the HEROES Act, passed in May 2020 — that would extend enhanced unemployment benefits, pay to extend health insurance for people who lose their jobs during the pandemic, and help states and local governments test more widely for COVID-19. So far, though, the U.S. Senate has not voted on the measure or any similar bill.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”