According to a new nationwide survey, the 34 million Americans living with diabetes face unique, acute and intensified challenges to their health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – challenges that may increase their COVID risk for complications. The study, released today by the American Diabetes Association® in partnership with Thrivable and the Diabetes Daily community, shows that the financial and economic toll of the pandemic has left scores of Americans with diabetes without access to the drugs, devices, insurance, and food that they need to properly manage their diabetes or even survive during this time.

While the data focus on the circumstances faced by people with diabetes during the pandemic, the effects of the trends uncovered by the study may last well beyond the crisis, creating what may be dangerous long-term repercussions for the health of this community and placing new strains on the health care system.

“For months we have known that people with diabetes are at heightened risk during COVID. Yet what this data show is that the level of adversity facing our community from this crisis is at an even more critical point,” said Tracey D. Brown, CEO of the American Diabetes Association. “As many as 40 percent of the COVID fatalities – 120,000 Americans – have been people with diabetes, and more in our community may be at risk of the worst of the virus’ effects because so many are now unable to manage their diabetes effectively. As we approach the holiday season, we must be even more mindful that our community, which includes an outsized portion of people of color and those of lesser means, must be a priority for relief efforts, including prioritized access to the COVID vaccine.”

Among the findings of the new survey of people with diabetes are:

COVID-19 has created dangerous hurdles to accessing health care.

  • 43% of people say they have delayed seeking routine medical care during the pandemic, often because they fear exposure to COVID.
  • One in 5 people says they have foregone or put off getting the technology they need to manage their diabetes, like an insulin pump or continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Most often, this is due to financial constraints.
  • Of those who use a CGM or insulin pump, 15% report they have delayed refilling needed supplies during the pandemic. 70% of them say that’s due to financial constraints or hardship.
  • 12% of people with diabetes have seen their health insurance disrupted since the start of the pandemic, often because they have lost their job or because the person on whose insurance they depend has lost their job. This group does not account for those who had lost insurance or been uninsured prior to the epidemic.
    • Of those who say they are newly without health insurance, 19% were forced to go on Medicaid and 13% have become uninsured.

The pandemic has dramatically reduced access to food.

  • More than 1 in 4 people reported the pandemic has disrupted their ability to get healthy food, compared to the 12% of the general population that’s experiencing food insecurity.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 say they must now rely on some sort of nutrition assistance; a third of those individuals are now leaning on local food banks for themselves and their families.
  • Nearly half of those who rely on nutrition assistance say the food they’re getting is not good for their diabetes, and 1 in 5 say they aren’t able to eat as frequently as they need to effectively manage their diabetes.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 people say that, since the pandemic, they have had to choose between buying food and buying medications or medical supplies.

There were other important highlights of the survey as well that show the effects of COVID on the perspective of the diabetes community. For example –

  • The survey found people with diabetes are substantially more open to getting a COVID vaccine than other Americans. When asked when they plan to get the vaccine, 37% of respondents said immediately – a figure about 40% higher than the general U.S. population. Likewise, people with diabetes are less than half as likely to say they will never get the vaccine than the general population.
  • The pandemic has prompted a nearly seven-fold increase in the use of telemedicine among people with diabetes. Of the 73% of respondents who say they have used some form of telehealth during the pandemic, about 40% say it makes diabetes management easier for them, and more than half say they plan to keep using telemedicine when the pandemic is over.
  • People with diabetes have participated infrequently in clinical drug trials in the past (only 11% report having done so), but the majority – 60% – say they are likely or very likely to participate in such a study in the future. Yet nearly a quarter of those who responded to the survey said they didn’t know how to participate in a drug trial if they wanted to do so.
  • People with diabetes were active in the 2020 presidential election. 89% of respondents say they voted in the 2020 presidential election – a rate 35% higher than the general population – with 58% of voters saying they did so remotely.