Defeating Diabetes in Arizona

By: Dr. Cara Christ, Chief Medical Officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona
September 21, 2022
Mature Man Checking Blood Sugar Level With Glucometer

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 in 10 of Arizona’s adults have diabetes and when combined with prediabetes, 1 in 4 Arizonans are affected. If it hasn’t already, diabetes is likely to impact someone you love.

This chronic disease touches so many lives, but it doesn’t 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 dollars annually are spent on direct diabetes-related medical costs in Arizona.

The path to a plan

To reduce the toll of diabetes and move in a healthier direction, it’s 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, likely due to the pandemic, in 2020 compared to 2019. Once restrictions were lifted and a semblance of normalcy returned, diabetes-related hospital visits increased again. It’s likely that many people delayed or couldn’t access preventative care early in the pandemic.

Together we can win this fight

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ), it’s our mission to help members prioritize their personal health. BCBSAZ has teamed up with ADHS to raise diabetes awareness and, more importantly, turn that awareness into action. Together, we’ve set an ambitious but attainable goal of reducing the progression of diabetes by 25% by 2025. Ultimately, the action steps we’re 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’re also thinking big picture. BCBSAZ 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 in three Arizonans have 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.

The BCBSAZ 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. I’m excited to work together with partners to combat this chronic condition and make a positive difference in the lives of our members and all Arizonans.