Defeating Diabetes in Arizona

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Guest post by Dr. Cara Christ, Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

If it has not already, diabetes is likely to impact someone you love. Prior to the pandemic, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in both our state and the country. According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, more than 1 out of every 10 adults in Arizona has diabetes. When combined with pre-diabetes, 1 out of every 4 Arizonans is affected. 

This chronic disease touches so many lives, but it does not have to. Diabetes can be combatted in our state through education and engagement. A newly unveiled plan can help you and your loved ones manage—or altogether prevent—the progression of diabetes.  

Prioritizing the fight against diabetes 

The chronic nature of diabetes can also lead to other severe health problems that negatively impact quality of life. Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, limb loss, and blindness. In addition to the health complications associated with diabetes, it can also cause significant financial strain. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly $5 billion is spent on direct diabetes-related medical costs in Arizona annually. 

The path to a plan  

To reduce the toll of diabetes and move in a healthier direction, it is critical to understand how we got here. 

Pre-COVID, we saw the promise of improvement, as fewer people were dying from diabetes. Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) showed a 1% decrease in deaths from diabetes over five years. Unfortunately, this trend reversed during the pandemic, with deaths associated with diabetes increasing in 2020 and 2021. 

Even while deaths due to diabetes tragically increased, the number of Arizonans visiting the hospital for a diabetes-related illness decreased in 2020 compared to 2019, likely due to the pandemic. Once restrictions were lifted and a semblance of normalcy returned, diabetes-related hospital visits increased again. It is likely that many people delayed or could not access preventative care early in the pandemic. 

Together we can win this fight

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, it is our mission to help members prioritize their personal health. We teamed up with ADHS to raise diabetes awareness and, more importantly, turn that awareness into action. Together, we have set an ambitious, but attainable, goal of reducing the progression of diabetes by 25% by 2025. Ultimately, the action steps we are taking are intended to make it much easier for people to access resources and services that will help prevent diabetes and complications from diabetes.

The vast plan includes five major objectives:

  1. Reduce hemoglobin A1C levels
  2. Increase engagement of members living with diabetes
  3. Increase provider coordination and accessibility
  4. Reduce the disparity of outcomes among members
  5. Monitor important metrics to measure improvement in outcomes

Long-term goals with immediate impact

The action plan has an initial 3-year goal, but we are also thinking big-picture. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona and partners are aiming for a long-term reduction in prediabetes specifically. Prediabetes is increasing by almost 1% every year, suggesting that diabetes rates will begin to climb within the next 5-10 years. Without treatment, prediabetes can not only lead to diabetes, but also heart disease and stroke. 

The first step in treating prediabetes is knowing you have it. One out of every three Arizonans has prediabetes, although 90% of these individuals are unaware of their status. Giving those with prediabetes access to resources like nutrition and physical fitness services, and increasing the use of evidence-based strategies including peer support and care management can fast-track improving health. 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s Diabetes Action Plan comes at a critical time. Through our work, we can break down barriers to accessing tools that can make it easier for people to prevent and manage diabetes. Working together with partners to combat this chronic condition will make a positive difference in the lives of our members and all Arizonans.

Dr. Cara Christ is Chief Medical Officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. She previously served as Arizona Department of Health Services Director, leading the state’s COVID-19 response during the largest public health initiative in the nation’s history.

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