Diabetes casts a pall on the lives of more than 4 million Californians – a startling 15 percent of the state’s adult population – and communities of color are disproportionately affected.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic Whites. They are also more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, blindness, lower extremity amputations, and death.
Besides ravaging their bodies, diabetes also ravages their wallets. People living with diabetes have more than double the medical expenses of those not stricken with the disease. And the indirect cost attributed to their lost productivity is estimated at $9.5 billion, a staggering statistic that affects our economic stability.
Throughout my 27 years of public service, I have strived to take on this public health crisis with initiatives ranging from outreach and treatment to promoting behavior change and looking to the horizon for what is next. This includes investing in American Diabetes Association multilingual awareness days and community outreach efforts, and convening the annual Care Harbor LA mega-clinic which provides about 3,000 people with primary and specialty care, including Type 2 Diabetes management and prevention. Meanwhile, the top-notch staff at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus not only treats diabetes but also works to prevent it with programs that fight obesity, a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes.
There has been progress but, as this crisis takes on another dimension, I have grown even more determined to find help for our most vulnerable constituents. I am heartened to see the work that Eli Lilly and Co. has done to help make diabetes medications more affordable. The Lilly Diabetes Solution Center, which opened just this August, provides options to people who need help paying for their insulin, including people with lower incomes, the uninsured, and the insured but paying high deductibles in a high-deductible insurance plan. Besides offering discounts, the company is also donating insulin for ultimate distribution to nearly 150 free clinics across the country.
It is important that we have tools like this in our collective arsenal to combat diabetes, a silent killer that is devastating the health of so many of our communities. We need to develop more innovative programs to defeat this public health crisis one patient at a time.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas represents the Second District on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.