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Sen. Byron Dorgan, Published December 05 2010

Diabetes program vital in ND

The lame-duck session of Congress has important work to do in a short time. Much of that work involves high-profile issues.

But there is another issue that doesn’t get enough attention that needs to be on the congressional “must do” list: the need to reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program. Without the assurance that the program will be funded next year, life-saving research and crucial programs for Native Americans will begin to wind down and then completely close their doors. Renewing it needs to be a top priority.

Diabetes is an epidemic. It affects more than 24 million adults and children in the United States, about 34,000 of them North Dakotans. That means over 6.4 percent of our state’s population has been diagnosed with diabetes. Many suffer from serious diabetes complications, and many others are debilitated and killed by it.

Diabetes is growing at an alarming pace. Its rates are four times what they were 30 years ago. At that pace, experts project that one of every three Americans will have the disease by 2050. The disease costs North Dakota over $300 million. It costs our nation $174 billion each year in direct and indirect medical costs. Those numbers are expected to triple in 25 years.

In 1997, Congress created the Special Diabetes Program to respond to this epidemic. The program is comprised of two parts – the Special Diabetes Program for Type 1 diabetes and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. The Special Diabetes Program has proved a smart federal investment, leading to important discoveries and clinical advancements in Type 1 diabetes (which usually affects kids) and also providing crucial and often life-saving programs for Native Americans, who are afflicted by the disease at rates far greater than the general population.

That’s why I introduced legislation to reauthorize the program and why it is so urgent that Congress pass the legislation before the lame-duck session completes its work before the end of the year.

The program works. It is developing and taking to communities strategies and treatments that prevent and control diabetes. It is fighting – and winning.

Now is no time to stop.

If there is any doubt about whether this bill needs to be on the “must do” list during the lame-duck session, I urge you to go to a diabetes clinic and listen to children talk about “sticking” themselves as many as a dozen or more times a day. See how their lives are so different from the care-free childhood we would hope all kids could enjoy. Go to a dialysis center on an Indian reservation and talk with people hooked up to machines. Talk with those who have lost limbs or with family members of people who died from diabetes in communities where as much as 70 percent of the population has the disease.

There are more high-profile issues for the lame-duck Congress. But there are few more important. We need to reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program now.

Sen. Dorgan, D-N.D., is retiring from the U.S. Senate this year.