Low-income diabetics are more likely than others to struggle to manage their condition – even if they have health insurance.

According to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, “Increasing access to care may be insufficient to improve the health of patients with diabetes mellitus and unmet basic needs.”  The study defines those unmet needs as food insecurity, cost-related medication underuse, housing instability, and energy insecurity.

jama internal medicineThe study, “Material Needs Insecurities, Control of Diabetes Mellitus, and Use of Health Care Resources,” found that difficulty affording food led to more outpatient physician visits; trouble paying for medicine and underuse of medicine for that reason led to more emergency room visits and hospitalizations; and all of the material insecurities contributed to increased health care costs.

The study was based on observation of 400 patients served by community health centers in Massachusetts.  It found that 19 percent of those patients had trouble affording food, 28 percent had difficulty paying for medicine, 11 percent struggled to pay for someplace to live, and 14 percent had a hard time paying their utility bills.  Overall, nearly half had trouble managing their diabetes.

The study’s findings reinforce NAUH’s long-held belief that low-income patients are fundamentally more challenging to treat than others and often lack the community and social supports needed to address their medical needs effectively.

Learn more about the study and its implications in this U.S. News & World Report article or find the study itself here, on the web site of the  JAMA Internal Medicine.