Objective: We tested the hypothesis that level of glycemic control is related to medical care costs in adults with diabetes.
Research design and methods: Regression analysis was used to estimate the relationship between glycemic control and medical care charges for 3,017 adults with diabetes who were continuously enrolled in a large health maintenance organization (HMO) over a 4-year period. Diagnosis of diabetes was ascertained from diagnostic and pharmaceutical databases using a method with an estimated sensitivity of 0.91 and an estimated specificity of 0.99. Charges for care included defined outpatient and inpatient services. Patients who disenrolled or who died during the 4-year period were excluded from the main analysis.
Results: Charges for medical care for patients with diabetes from 1993 to 1995 were closely related to HbA1c level in 1992 before and after adjustment for age, sex, coronary heart disease, and hypertension. Standardized 3-year estimates of charges ranged from $10,439 for patients without comorbid conditions to $44,417 for those with heart disease and hypertension. Medical care charges increased significantly for every 1% increase above HbA1c of 7%. For a person with an HbA1c value of 6%, successive 1% increases in HbA1c resulted in cumulative increases in charges of approximately 4, 10, 20, and 30%. The increase in charges accelerated as the HbA1c value increased. For patients with diabetes only, or with diabetes plus other chronic conditions, the rate of increase in charges with HbA1c was consistent.
Conclusions: HbA1c provides useful information to providers and patients regarding both health status and future medical care charges. Economic data suggest that clinicians should assign high importance to low HbA1c results and aggressively maintain the HbA1c status of patients who have low HbA1c values. For economic as well as clinical reasons, it may be beneficial to lower HbA1c when it is > 8% and to reduce cardiovascular risk factors. The medical charge data suggest that investment in clinical systems to improve diabetes care may benefit both payers and patients.