Schumer fights ‘crisis in waiting'

John Zick

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer called on the federal government Monday to expand its role in combating diabetes in the Southern Tier by supporting bi-partisan legislation that would help prevent a looming health care and financial problem.

Calling the disease a potential crisis in waiting, Schumer announced his intention to push the “landmark” legislation through the Senate this year. The New York Democrat made the announcement during a press conference at the Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira.

“For years we've seen a growing tidal wave of diabetes cases across the Elmira area, leaving too many adults and children struggling to fight a debilitating disease that carries the potential to create a regional health care and financial crisis,” Schumer said. “They key to beating back this serious problem is a two-pronged assault: We provide Southern Tier residents with the preventative care and medicine needed to treat diabetes in its early stages, while encouraging exercise among adults and children so they can maintain healthy lifestyles.”

According to Schumer, diabetes cases in the Southern Tier have jumped more than 50 percent since 1999. Approximately 36,000 Southern Tier residents currently suffer from the disease. In Chemung and Schuyler counties, approximately 8.3 percent of people have diabetes, as do 8.2 percent of people in Steuben County.

Nationally, 6.3 percent of Americans have diabetes.

“(Diabetes is) sweeping across the Elmira and Southern Tier area,” Schumer said. “Its cost will overwhelm us.”

Diabetes is a disease in which a person's blood-sugar levels are abnormal. The most prevalent type of diabetes is Type 2, which accounts of 90-95 percent of all cases, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes, include obesity, lack of exercise and genetics. Between 57 and 63 percent of Southern Tier residents are overweight, Schumer said, as are 40 percent of children.

“You can prevent yourself from getting it by being healthy,” Schumer said.

Generally, Type 2 diabetes affects older citizens, although more cases are being diagnosed in overweight children. According to experts, the link between childhood obesity and diabetes is strong.

“We're really not making any progress on Type 2 diabetes,” Schumer said.

Endocrinologist Dr. Barbara Mols-Kowalczewski works with diabetic patients at Arnot Ogden and said the legislation is “critically” and “vitally” important.

“I would agree the statistics ... are sobering,” she said. “Diabetes, unfortunately, does not spare the young.”

The proposed legislation would shift the federal government's focus toward early detection and effective treatment by expanding access and Medicaid coverage. Specifically:

• Guarantee Medicaid coverage of diabetes screening for patients who are at risk.

• Require Medicaid coverage of a package of diabetes services for patients who are diagnosed with the disease, including education, nutrition and eye and foot exams.

• Proves Medicaid patients with essential diabetes services for free by ensuring patients would not be subject to cost-sharing requirements.

Additionally, Schumer will work to establish a pilot program in upstate New York in which participating businesses would reduce their health-care costs by providing employees with first-rate coverage of diabetes-related medications and services.

Preventing diabetes by fighting obesity is also a centerpiece of the legislation. To fight obesity, Schumer will:

• Introduce community exercise programs that reach out to youths and adults.

• Push an anti-obesity awareness campaign for children.

• Work to reduce junk food in schools.

If the legislation is passed, Schumer said financial improvements could be noticed within three years and health benefits could be seen almost immediately.