Most physicians are aware that diabetes mellitus is becoming increasingly common in the United States, with a growing share of the country’s burden of disease. Given this growth, the potential of diabetes to drastically impact the healthcare system is particularly important to understand. Between 1996 and 2013, healthcare spending on diabetes increased substantially. By 2013, approximately $101 billion was spent on diabetes in the US, nearly triple the amount spent on the condition in 1996.

Recent studies show that the large increase in annual spending are driven by several factors. First, the American population is larger and older than in 1996. Because the elderly tend to spend more on their health, the growth and aging of the population is responsible for a $22 billion increase in annual spending on diabetes. Increasing diabetes prevalence has also contributed to spending growth, accounting for a $15 billion increase in diabetes spending. While the increases linked to these factors are sizable, the biggest factor driving increases in healthcare spending on diabetes has been a change in how the health system treats diabetes; treatments have become more expensive and more intense. Increases in the price and intensity of diabetes services were associated with a $28 billion increase in diabetes spending between 1996 and 2013. The impact of this factor has been particularly noticeable in pharmaceutical spending; the growing price and intensity of pharmaceuticals alone increased healthcare spending by $20 billion between 1996 and 2013.

The growing prevalence of diabetes, and its increasing financial burden on the US healthcare system, are critical reminders of the importance of prevention and proactive disease management. The vast majority of diabetes disease burden is attributed to modifiable risk factors such as obesity, dietary risks, and tobacco use. By preventing or aggressively treating these risk factors, patients, physicians, and public health officials can take steps toward reducing both the disease and financial burdens of diabetes.