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Updated 10:00 AM July 10, 2006




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U-M employees upbeat about diabetes meds plan

University employees and their dependents with diabetes now are able to receive some medications free or at reduced cost through an innovative new pilot program, which is bringing some peace of mind to several families.

"My daughter has diabetes; she is 5 and was diagnosed in May," says Wendy Sparks, a lecturer in nursing. "The plan will benefit me because I have had to decrease my hours at work due to her diabetes. It is nice to know that I do not have that extra expense."

"I expect to save close to $50 a month," said Merry Meyer, administrative specialist, with Facilities/Event Services at Pierpont Commons, who has diabetes. "I do believe this initiative will help many people with the disease; they will feel more inclined to treat related problems—thyroid, depression, cholesterol, etc.—and it may help those who are somewhat in denial," Meyer adds. "The goal is to keep the work force healthy. This is a great step forward."

Starting July 1 participants no longer were charged co-payments for certain drugs that control blood sugar, lower blood pressure, cut the risk of heart and kidney problems, and ease depression. All of the drugs chosen for free co-pays are generics shown to prevent diabetes complications that can be debilitating or fatal. Co-pays for other drugs in the same classes have been reduced by 50 or 25 percent. The changes are aimed at encouraging the use of medicines that can help prevent the disease's worst long-term effects.

Participants also are receiving educational materials to help them understand how to improve their health and reduce the chance of diabetes complications. More than 2,000 of the 69,700 employees and dependents covered by U-M benefits currently take medication for diabetes.

The concept for the program came from U-M research that has shown the potential health value of removing any cost barrier that might keep people with certain chronic illnesses from getting beneficial medications, tests and screenings. U-M research also has suggested that the approach may save individuals, employers, insurers and society money in the long run by preventing or delaying costly complications ranging from heart attacks and strokes to blindness and amputations.

The program, called MHealthy: Focus on Diabetes, is the first to rigorously evaluate the impact of targeted co-pay reduction on medication use. Although several companies have reduced or waived co-pays as part of employee health promotion or disease management programs, and at least one has reported cost savings linked to such programs, the specific impact of reduced drug co-pays has not been measured.

"What the program is doing for myself and others is not only financial but it also recognizes that there is support out there for the disease," Sparks says. "I feel that the disease is a disease that needs intelligence to manage. I am a health care provider and it is overwhelming to me," she says.

President Mary Sue Coleman has stated she hopes this effort will yield solid results while providing a model for others. Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Dr. Robert Kelch has said that the fact that diabetes affects so many people makes it a natural focus for such a program.

Betsy Nota-Kirby, M-CARE's Associate Director of Health Management Programs, also is looking forward to the results of the study. "We are interested in exploring potential benefit design enhancements for M-CARE members as a result of the study."

The new program is open to all U-M employees and their dependents with diabetes regardless of their health insurance plan. U-M prescription drug benefits are offered through a single provider, allowing the program's effects to be evaluated.

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