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Lame duck Congress must renew special diabetes program

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The "lame duck" session of Congress has a lot of important work to do in a very short amount of time. Much of that work involves very high profile issues. Facing up to the need to reduce the deficit; deciding whether to extend tax cuts now scheduled to expire and, if so, for whom; preventing a sharp cut in the rates doctors are paid for treating Medicare patients; and passing the Defense Authorization and Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bills are just a few examples.

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But there is another issue that doesn't get enough attention that needs to be on the congressional "must do" list, as well: 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 for Congress in the "lame duck" session.

Diabetes is a full-blown 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% of our state's population has been diagnosed with diabetes. Many suffer from serious diabetes complications, and many others are debilitated and even killed by it.

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

In 1997, Congress created a program called 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 Special Diabetes Program and why it is so urgent that Congress pass that legislation before the "lame duck" session completes its work before the end of this year. Without a reauthorization, important life-saving research for Type 1 Diabetes and treatment and prevention programs for Indians will be cut off next year.

We know that the Special Diabetes Program works. It is developing and taking into communities new strategies and treatments that prevent and control diabetes. It is fighting - and winning - against a debilitating and sometimes even deadly disease that that has been growing like a wildfire for decades.

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 would urge you to go to a diabetes clinic and listen to the small children talk about "sticking" themselves, as many as a dozen or more times a day. See how their lives are so very different from the carefree childhood we would hope all kids could enjoy. Go to a dialysis center on an Indian reservation and talk with the people hooked up to those machines. Talk with those who have lost limbs or the family members of people who died from diabetes in communities where as much as 70 percent of the population has the disease.

Yes, there are other more high profile issues for the "lame duck" Congress to deal with. But there are few more important. We need to reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program now.

Dorgan is stepping down after his 2010 term.

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