A perceived abundance of processed, sugary foods and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle ushered in by advances in technology has the state Legislature on the offensive when it comes to preventive healthcare.
Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, said what once was commonly known as adult early onset diabetes is now occurring at a much earlier age, in some cases with teenagers.
“We are seeing it move down in age and affect more and more of our young people. This is a very alarming trend,” Simpson said. “When it comes to Medicaid expenses, a person without diabetes on Medicaid costs us about $180 a month. For someone with Type 2 diabetes, their medical expenses are almost $2,000 a month.”
Senate Bill 972, which will direct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to examine the feasibility of submitting a state plan amendment to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services  to enable the Oklahoma Medicaid Program to reimburse providers for diabetes self-management training.
“The benefits on this can be significant,” Simpson said.
Simpson said the Legislature has also discussed possible taxes on sugary drinks and other food stuffs often linked to poor health and an increased risk of developing diabetes.
“A sugary drink tax has been kicked around, that all the stuff that’s not healthy for us, we’ve kicked those numbers around,” Simpson said. “The mountain to climb is that those require 75 percent votes, and those are hard to come by.”
Simpson said further efforts to ban or remove  “junk food” and soda from schools should be handled on a local level.
“When parents ask me about that I tell them, that is something they need to share with their school board, I don’t want the Legislature making those decisions,” Simpson said. “I would rather see the local communities determine their standard and make those decisions.”
Simpson called diabetes one of the largest drivers of cost increases in the state’s healthcare system, adding that by allowing OHCA to reimburse the training, the state would see dramatic improvements in health outcomes while also decreasing long-term costs.
“A big part of our Medicaid expense, we are spending about four times more on someone who is diabetic,” Simpson said. “If we can give them a better opportunity to manage their diabetes and keep it under control, you won’t see as many health consequences as a result of the disease which in turn saves us a ton of money we can implement in other areas of government. There wasn’t a reimbursement mechanism for diabetes self-management training. The user has to do that at their own expense and someone on Medicaid probably doesn’t have a lot of disposable income. Now that we can pay that for them and encourage them to be active participants, there is a big benefit for that.”
Natalie Parrish, HR director for Cross Timber Hospice, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 19 years ago. Parrish applauded the bill saying her struggles with diabetes, though often expensive, required significant supplemental education on her condition.
“It’s life or death,” Parrish said. “If you give yourself too much insulin or not enough you can die.”
Parrish said she went through the trial and error process to learn how to test her blood sugar, meals and do self injections.
“I learned how to do this through self education,” Parrish said. “I was proactive, but I was never given any true education. I would like to see the self-care education be mandatory after receiving a diagnosis. I am glad to see them doing something about this. Blood sugar isn’t just about junk food, it’s about whole body management.”
Mercy Ardmore offers a variety of classes for the treatment and self-management of diabetes. These classes are approved by the American Diabetes Association and designed for both individuals and groups:
• Basic Diabetes Management
• Gestational Diabetes Management
• Intensive Insulin Therapy
• Individual Consults
Check with your primary physician and your pharmacist for other available resources.