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Health fund highlights high cost of diabetes

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Almost three-quarters of Medibank Private members with diabetes visited hospital at least once last year, figures released by the health fund show.

As private insurers push for an increased role in the provision of primary health care, Medibank Private has revealed that type 2 diabetes has become a significant health problem among its members.

The fund, which is Australia’s largest, reported that around 2.8 per cent of its members were identified as having diabetes nationwide, including 3.5 per cent of Victorian members, 2.7 per cent of those in NSW and the ACT, 2.9 per cent of those in Queensland and 3.4 per cent of those in South Australia.

Of those members identified as having diabetes, 73 per cent visited hospital at least once last year, and the average length of stay was four days.

The most common reason for hospitalisation, accounting for 46 per cent of cases, was diabetic or thyroid-related illnesses, followed by vascular surgery (24 per cent), and eye diseases (21 per cent).

The figures only include private hospital admissions.

In announcing the figures, Medibank Private highlighted data showing the incidence of self-reported diabetes has doubled in the past two decades to 4.2 per cent of the population, and has been accompanied by a growing national weight problem, with two-thirds of adults overweight or obese.

Diabetes Australia has launched a campaign to improve awareness of type 2 diabetes amid concerns that many people underestimate their risk of developing the disease.

The organisation cited a Newspoll survey that found almost 80 per cent of people did not see themselves at risk of type 2 diabetes despite evidence that more than two million already have pre-diabetes and are at high risk of developing the disease.

Diabetes Australia Chief Executive Officer Professor Greg Johnson said many did not take the diabetes risk seriously.

“What many people don’t realise is that type 2 diabetes doesn’t just affect older people or those who are overweight or obese,” Professor Johnson said. “Type 2 diabetes can affect anyone. It is a serious and complex condition.”

Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Ian Boyd said that although there was no cure for type 2 diabetes, the condition could be managed through diet, exercise and, in some cases, medication.

The fund’s message comes in the context of a controversial push by private insurers for an increased role in the provision of primary and preventive health care.

Adrian Rollins