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Uninsured Diabetics Turn to Free Clinics & Community Health Centers


The nation’s nonprofit community health centers and free clinics saw a 13 percent increase in uninsured patients with diabetes seeking care during the first six months of 2009 versus the same period in 2008, according to the results of a national survey released today by humanitarian medical aid organization Direct Relief.

The increase in uninsured patients with diabetes visiting these nonprofit safety-net clinics sites is especially concerning given the dramatically higher costs associated with treating this population. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diagnosed diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures that are approximately 2.3 times higher than those without diabetes.

“These findings confirm what we knew intuitively – in general, that the economic downturn has created difficulties nationwide for a lot of people and stretched the network of nonprofit health centers and clinics that provide a key point of access for patients who need care,” said Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe.  “But, the findings also define a specific problem – real patients in need trying to manage their diabetes at specific places – so we and others can lean in and help.”

Other findings of the survey include that a solid majority of all diabetic patients (59.5 percent) seen at the surveyed sites lacked either private or government-sponsored medical insurance, compared to an overall uninsured rate of 45.2 percent among total patients. The survey found that 14.6 percent of all patients receiving care at surveyed sites were diabetic, an increase of 9.2 percent from 2008 and well above the national percentage of the population that is diabetic (5.8 percent, according to the American Diabetes Association). There was a 7.9 percent increase in total patients seen by surveyed sites.

Direct Relief, with assistance from the National Association of Community Health Centers and the National Association of Free Clinics, conducted the survey from July 7 to July 24 via a Web-based tool. The results reflect data from 562 community health centers and free clinics from all 50 states that collectively provided medical care for 4.3 million patients in the first six months of 2009.

In response to the survey findings, Direct Relief has allocated 5 million insulin syringes and pen needles donated by medical technology company BD, which stepped in to help low-income, uninsured patients with diabetes during the economic recession.  “BD’s support here is just terrific,” said Tighe.

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