In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people.
Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere as many faith leaders perceive a threat to voting rights that warrants their intervention in a volatile political issue.
“It is very much in a part of our tradition, as Christians, to be engaged in the public square,” said the Rev. Dr. Eric Ledermann, pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona, after the event outside the Statehouse.
“When people say, ‘Let’s not get political in the church’ — Jesus was very political,” Ledermann said. “He was engaged in how his culture, his community was being shaped, and who was being left out of the decision-making process.”
Georgia already has enacted legislation with various restrictive voting provisions. More than 350 voting bills are now under consideration in dozens of other states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy think tank. Among the proposals: tightening requirements for voter IDs, reducing the number of ballot drop boxes and curtailing early voting.
African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald Jackson, who oversees AME churches in Georgia, has been urging corporate leaders to do more to fight voting restrictions. So far, he’s dissatisfied with the response, and says he may call for boycotts of some companies.
In this Tuesday, April 13, 2021 file photo, Reverend Kenneth Pierce, 1st VP of the Detroit Branch NAACP, and pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, speaks Tuesday, April 13, 2021, during a rally to support voting rights & end voter suppression at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)
In numerous states, voting rights activism is being led by multi-faith coalitions that include Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups. Here is what some of the faith leaders are saying:
The Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, for whom the issue is “very personal”:
“I’m from Alabama, a little town called Demopolis. It’s 47 miles west of Selma, where my mother fought for rights, went to jail on Bloody Sunday (in 1965). … So those are the stories that I grew up with. I never imagined that I would still be fighting the same fight.”
“There is a playbook to suppress votes, to shrink the electorate. And we believe fundamentally, as a tenet of faith, that it should be expanded so that people are included, not excluded.”
The Rev. Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr., senior pastor at First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix and chairman of Arizona’s African American Christian Clergy Coalition:
“If you read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, it talks about justice, talks about being on the side of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the orphan, the poor. And this whole voter-suppression issue is about fighting against those who would oppress people of color, the poor, people who are struggling to make it in life. So it is a faith issue as much as a justice issue. They’re not disconnected.”
“The reaction of the Republican Party, to the most people ever voting in the history of the United States, is that ‘we’re gonna lose in the future.’ So it’s very obvious that this is not about accountability or about ethics, it’s about politics. And that’s unjust, and so that’s why we’re out here.”
The Rev. Frederick Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas:
“We have those in leadership — in Texas government — who have in their ideological DNA the same mindset of those slave masters who denied the humanity of Black people. The same mindset of those individuals who upheld Jim and Jane Crow segregation. … Gov. (Greg) Abbot and his Republican cronies have decided to dress up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo of what they call voter integrity, but it’s still Jim and Jane Crow. … You are simply trying to create a problem for voters you don’t want to vote.”
The Rev. Edwin Robinson, organizer of Dallas Black Clergy:
“No matter what side of the political aisle you find yourself, any attempt to hinder voting is an attempt to take away our greatest freedom and liberty. … We should be doing everything to protect our greatest freedoms — and make ways for our citizens to enthusiastically vote and do so free from fear and intimidation.”
The Rev. Anne Ellsworth, priest at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish in Tempe:
“I am a pastor in a white congregation. I am a priest in a church, the Episcopal Church, that is famous for our white, Christian, moderate stance. … My interest is in awakening knowledge in other white, moderate, Christian women who have remained silent or who have felt powerless or think that it doesn’t matter to them. My guiding light is a quote from Martin Luther King: ‘There are not enough white people who value or who cherish democratic principles more than white privilege.’”
“White Christian women know what it is to have our voices silenced. And we cannot stand by while other people’s voices are also being silenced. We need to recognize our privilege and use it as leverage to fight voter suppression aimed at Black Americans.”
Rabbi Lydia Medwin of The Temple in Atlanta:
“The Jewish community has responded to the call of our African American brothers and sisters since the since the Civil Rights era began. When our partners and people that we care deeply about say to us, ‘We’re hurting, we’re being treated unfairly,’ we have no other response but to step up.”
Rabbi David Segal, Texas organizer for the Religious Action Center for Judaism Reform:
“The backlash against Georgia passing legislation is actually helping us in Texas, because we’re able to point to that and organize the anger around those laws to try and stop it here. … People of faith stand for inclusion and stand for respect and stand for acceptance and a different kind of justice.”
Associated Press writer Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed to this report.
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, Voters line up outside Vickery Baptist Church waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day in Dallas. In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
This article is updated and republished from a version in 2019.
Our rendezvous point was the home of a saint. Together, we climbed the 25 steps that led to the bedroom of Mother Teresa, a five-foot giant of love and mercy. We peered into the small, modestly adorned space where she had slept, prayed, and responded to letters from every corner the world. Slowly, we descended the stairs and walked into the chapel that contained Mother’s tomb. Some of the women kissed the tomb. Some gave alms. Some cried. One showed her daughter how to fold her hands in prayer. They were prostitutes and owners of brothels. I was a woman who was about to journey from ignorance to understanding, and from judgment to love.
This was just one of the many mind-changing and heart-opening encounters I had on a recent mission trip to India. For years, Anita, a missionary and friend of mine, had been asking me to accompany her overseas, but I always had one good excuse or another. I had supported her efforts financially, but I didn’t think I was called to go to other parts of the world to serve when there were enough folks in my own backyard who needed to be served. Mind you, I wasn’t really serving people in my own backyard, but the excuse made me believe that I had my priorities straight. This year though, she had urged me, was the right year for me to go because she would be doing something different. Along with distributing rice, other staples, and the good news of God’s love for everyone, she wanted to offer soul care to religious leaders as well as HIV-positive children living in orphanages, widows, nursing mothers, those attending churches in the jungle, the hearing impaired, and prostitutes. She thought that since I had a certificate in the practice of spiritual direction and a master’s degree in family ministry and spiritual formation, I was well equipped to help people pay greater attention to the quality of their relationship with God.
I knew that I was ill-equipped to speak to such a broad range of audiences, but I decided to go because I was interested in visiting that part of the world and curious about what I could learn from a different culture. Learning, I was to discover, was about to take on a whole new depth after I spent a day with women whom I thought I knew. What I deemed to be knowledge had been prejudice in disguise.
Sharing Life Together
Writer Maisie Sparks at the home of Mother Teresa.
After we left the chapel, the women and I went to the museum that chronicles Mother Teresa’s life. Some of the women couldn’t read English or their own language, but we looked at the pictures and followed the visual narrative about the impact Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu had made on the world.
The women were well-dressed. Not in that I’m-trying-to-pick-up-a-guy kind of way that I had assumed they would be, but in a I’m-going-somewhere-important-and-I-should-dress-for-the-occasion way. Their saris were made of vibrant, colorful, and intricately designed materials. I, on the other hand, was sorely underdressed. I had bought an inexpensive contemporary Indian-styled blouse on the first day of my arrival. My attempt at replicating the culture’s fashion sense was so bad that one of my interpreters convinced a store owner to give me a better price on some souvenirs because I was not a rich American. The evidence of my station in life, she pointed out, was the kind of material my clothes had been made from. Although my pride was hurt, my wallet was happy.
As we walked through the courtyard that connected the buildings that comprised the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, I pulled out my journal and began to capture some of my thoughts. I was starting to feel as if this was going to be a watershed day and that I should write down as much of it as I could. But I had to stop. A group photo was being organized, and I hurried over to make sure that I was part of it to memorialize the day that I began to see similarities and not just differences. Even though we didn’t speak the same language and were from different cultures, we all shared the same desires. We wanted better for our lives, and especially, the lives of our children. We had suffered at the hands of others and had been impacted by systems and circumstances that restricted the financial mobility of the poor—especially women. We all, at some point in our lives, had overstepped the bounds of righteousness to secure the life we thought we wanted.
In some cultures, prostitution is a viable choice for women who are poor, lack education, and have little, if any, hope for help from charities or government programs. It provides a career path to ownership of bars, hotels/brothels, catering services, and other ancillary services once a woman can earn more money than she needs to survive. Indeed, several of the women I met were business owners.
One of the missionaries who we served with in India told me that the women have been open to hearing the gospel, especially in the engaging ways Anita had shared it on previous visits. Yet, few have been motivated to change their careers. Where she’d seen the greatest change is in the numbers of them enrolling their children in the pre-schools she had established.
As the day continued, I would learn that even before the local missionary opened her pre-schools, many of the women had given their children an education. Some had even put their children through college—both boys and girls. Educating girls is significant because they don’t have equal worth in this and many other cultures. I realized that this belief is pervasive and is manifested in my own culture by unequal pay, glass ceilings to career advancement, and the inability of women to obtain business loans.
Teaching and Learning
After visiting Mother Teresa’s home, we took a short walk to a cloistered hotel with a beautiful lawn and an air-conditioned meeting room. Anita began the teaching part of our day by sharing the good news of the sacrificial love of Christ. The session ended with joyous songs of praise from the women. To take a break from a long spell of sitting, we went outside to play a game.
Anita had each woman find a partner. One partner was blindfolded, and the other had to guide the blindfolded person through a maze of chairs by giving only verbal directions. It was comical to watch and uncomfortable to experience. But it led us into a discussion about what it’s like to walk in darkness, to stumble around, to be fearful. We asked ourselves: Can we trust the voice we hear? Are we good at giving directions? Are we good at taking directions? Do we know our left from our right? The exercise elicited much laughter. Anita transitioned from talking about the darkness to introducing the Light. There is a voice we can trust, she declared. That voice invites us to walk a path that leads to the better life that we all seek.
After a spicy lunch, it was my turn to teach, and I introduced the women to the prayer of examen. Each time I shared this prayer in this culture, I wondered whether it would be experienced as relevant. Poor people don’t need a reflective prayer, I thought. They need a prayer about getting God to do things for them through prayer. What I was to learn, however, is that everyone, everywhere needs time to reflect on what they think about God. We all need to discover that our deepest desire is to know God deeply, no matter where we live, what we’ve done, or what our circumstances are.
As I shared my presentation, I often paused, asking questions, and waiting for feedback to see whether I was explaining the prayer clearly. They responded with answers that let me know that they understood me. Near the end, one woman stood and prayed the prayer using examples from her own life—direct confirmation for me that she got it.
I discovered that prayer – reflective, sincere, and unbiased – can activate compassion and give birth to love. We ended the day singing songs of praise, playing balloon volleyball, giving gifts, and sharing hugs. I no longer experienced their presence as “them and me.” We were one: women united with a universal bond and a desire to know God, each other, and our own selves at a much deeper level.
I had traveled more than 8,000 miles to be part of a mission trip, but in reality, I had taken a longer journey. I had experienced the mysterious lengths God will take to get us out of our heads and into His heart. That is the longest and most significant distance each of us can ever travel.
Maisie Sparks is a spiritual director and the author of Holy Shakespeare and other titles.
Gospel singer and pastor Deitrick Haddon has lost family and church members to COVID-19, as have many other Americans.
The star of the “Preachers of L.A.” and “Fix My Choir” reality shows has turned to his art form to express that shared sense of grief.
“Sick World” — a single featuring both gospel and trap, a form of hip hop music, premiered on the 2021 Inaugural Gospel Celebration and is available on various platforms, such as Spotify and Amazon Music.
Haddon, who has a Pentecostal background, leads Los Angeles’ Hill City Church, a nondenominational, predominantly Black congregation that is marking its fifth anniversary this month (March). The church hasn’t met in person for a year, due to COVID-19, but he plans to host an outdoor service on Azusa Street — known for being the historic site of a revival in the early 20th century — on Easter Sunday.
Haddon talked to Religion News Service about why he co-created “Sick World,” his personal and national losses from the pandemic and his plans to keep up pandemic practices long after it’s over.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to create the new single “Sick World”?
I could see the world was grieving. I was grieving. I lost my Aunt Celeste (Folmar) last year in 2020. I lost one of my eldest brothers, Shawn (Derrick) Haddon, rest in peace. Even lost a member of my church. I just wanted to write a song that will bring some peace and comfort to people and help people realize there is life beyond this pandemic. We’ve all lost a significant amount of people in a short amount of time. I said, if I had the opportunity to speak to everybody, whether you were Black or white, rich, poor, a believer, or unbeliever, Democrat, Republican, what would I say to everybody? And that was the song that I wrote.
Why did you choose to use music that combines gospel and trap music, a form of hip hop, and work with record producer Zaytoven?
Zaytoven is like a brother of mine. He’s been supportive of my music for years. He’s had success in the trap world. He’s considered to be one of the originators of that sound. He’s produced hit records with (rappers) Gucci Mane, Future and a lot of artists. He has a love for gospel music, and we just brought it together. Gospel music can’t really be put in a box. You can place the message in any form. It just gelled perfectly. The lyrics flowed. Once I heard the music, the song wrote itself.
The lyrics include the words “can’t stand to lose nobody else.” Why did you choose to use those words?
First of all, it was a big blow to lose Kobe Bryant and his daughter at one time. And all the lovely souls that were in that helicopter crash. Then, in the midst of that pandemic, we lost great people like Chadwick Boseman. His career seems like it was just really taking off, skyrocketing, and he’s the king of (the mythical nation of) Wakanda, for God’s sake, in our minds. He’s too strong. We’ve seen how people had succumbed to COVID, and how powerful COVID-19 was. The only thing I can hear in my heart: Man, we can’t stand to lose anybody else. I mean, how much more can we take?
You wanted to capture a broader remembrance of lives lost at this time.
Yeah. Yeah. Just anybody whose lives were lost last year. It’s hard to separate it from the pandemic. It’s just a year of loss, great loss, whether through the COVID pandemic or not, just too many people. One of my favorite No. 1 gospel artists in the world — one of the best — was Rance Allen. I never thought in a million years that we would lose him. And I learned how to sing listening to him.
Have you had to officiate at funerals of church members who have died because of COVID?
We’ve only had one member that belongs to my church. We called her “Cookie.” I had to preach the service under a tent outdoors, outside of the actual funeral home building.
You also sing of the debates about wearing masks and say thousands have died because we cannot agree. Are there other ways you’re trying to move people beyond the debates other than your song?
Making people agree with you is a hard thing to do. But I put my opinion and my perspective in a song. This will all go down in history, that thousands have died ’cause we could not agree. I do believe we extended the pandemic. I do believe we made it worse than what it should have been because of our inability to unite and come together as one as a nation and agree on the simple things like wearing a mask. You asked the question: Am I doing anything outside of my song? No, I’m not doing anything outside of my song because I can’t force anybody to do anything. I put it in the song ’cause the song can go where I can’t go.
What was it like to present your musical message at the time of the inauguration, since it was both a new administration and an administration that’s been focusing on COVID-19 from the beginning?
I thought it was perfect for me because I’ve been an advocate for people wearing masks and keeping their hands clean. So I’m right in sync with Joe Biden’s administration’s calls to get this thing cleared up and get a unified effort as a nation to come together. I was also excited to be a part of such a historic event, where we had the first female vice president of the United States of America.
What are you looking forward to most when more people are vaccinated and the country may experience what everybody’s calling a “new normal”?
I love to take my three kids and my wife on trips to Disney World and everywhere. So hopefully we’ll be able to get back and feel comfortable with traveling and enjoying life and wonderful things that we do, like going to the movies, just the regular things we do that we’ve taken for granted, I believe. But I also hope we will understand the importance of keeping our hands clean and not just touching everything, and I hope we can keep some things going, because that’s how germs transfer. Hopefully, we can continue to comply a little bit with keeping our hands clean and wearing a mask. I think I’ll always keep that in place from now on.
Faith groups are celebrating Virginia’s decision to ban the death penalty, a move considered to be a victory for religious opposition to capital punishment.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the ban — the first of any Southern state and the 23rd overall — into law on Wednesday (March 24), declaring it “the moral thing to do.”
“Over our 400-year history, Virginia has executed more people than any other state,” Northam said. “The death penalty system is fundamentally flawed — it is inequitable, ineffective, and it has no place in this Commonwealth or this country. Virginia has come within days of executing innocent people, and Black defendants have been disproportionately sentenced to death.”
The Rev. LaKeisha Cook, a lead organizer at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, also spoke at the signing ceremony.
“Today I stand here representing many people of faith all throughout the commonwealth of Virginia,” Cook said. “Virginia Interfaith was very, very happy to join officially in this fight for abolition. Today we turn the page in the history books of this great commonwealth as we celebrate the end of the death penalty.”
Cook pointed to the activism of the state’s “amazing faith community,” such as those who held prayer vigils at sites of lynchings in January to highlight the historical link between early racist killings and the modern death penalty, or the nearly 430 faith leaders who signed on to a letter opposing the death penalty in February.
Cook noted the advocacy of the Virginia Catholic Conference, which also voiced support for the ban on Wednesday. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond released a statement citing Pope Francis, whose 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” included the line: “The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe.”
“Through our Virginia Catholic Conference, we supported this historic legislation as it progressed through the General Assembly because all human life is sacred,” read the statement from Burbidge and Knestout. “We are grateful to those who worked to make this a reality.”
Catholics in the U.S. have long opposed capital punishment, and Francis voiced support for abolishing the practice during his 2015 address to Congress.
But the pontiff made things even more explicit in 2018 when he changed the church’s catechism to declare the death penalty “inadmissible” and insist that the church will work “with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
The Virginia bishops were joined in their celebration by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“Virginia will become the twenty-third state to abolish the death penalty, and I urge all other states and the federal government to do the same,” Coakley said in a statement.
He praised the work of advocates such as the Catholic Mobilizing Network before adding: “We are reminded that God created and loves every person, and we can respond to this love with reverence for the dignity of every human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled, or desperate that life may seem.”
Opposition to the death penalty has grown over the past few decades and is common in several faith communities. A 2018 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 55% of Americans preferred life in prison without parole instead of capital punishment for people convicted of murder, compared with 44% who preferred the death penalty. Majorities of Black Protestants (80%), non-Christian religious groups (57%) and white Catholics (54%) also favored life in prison.
Of those polled, only two groups expressed majority preference for the death penalty: white evangelicals (62%) and white mainline Protestants (54%).
Virginia Catholics were echoed by other stalwart faith-rooted opponents of the death penalty this week, such as Christian activist and author Shane Claiborne. He championed the ban when versions of it first passed both chambers of the state legislature in February, and he called on the federal government to do the same.
“President (Joe) Biden is poised to do the same thing Virginia just did: reckon with the mistakes of our past and use that past to help us envision a better future — one without the death penalty,” Claiborne wrote.
Biden, a Catholic, proposed eliminating the federal death penalty in 2019 during his campaign for president, but he has yet to take sweeping action regarding the promise — which would require support from the Supreme Court or Congress — since beginning his term.
Former President Donald Trump was widely criticized by faith leaders for his administration’s 2020 decision to renew the use of the death penalty in federal cases for the first time since 2003. Among various protests, more than 1,000 faith leaders signed a letter that summer demanding Trump and then-Attorney General William Barr end the practice.
Biden has already heard from fellow Catholics on the issue: During the first Mass he attended as president, the priest delivered a homily blasting the Trump administration’s renewed use of the death penalty and referring to the former commander in chief as an “execution president.”
When White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked during a press briefing on Monday whether Biden would support the Supreme Court if it reinstated the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, she noted that Biden has “grave concerns about whether capital punishment … is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness,” but referred specific questions about the case to the Department of Justice.
Trevis Hall, of Fort Washington, Maryland, credits a continuous glucose monitor with helping him get his diabetes under control. Makers of the device say that the instant feedback provides a way to motivate healthier eating and exercise. But experts point out that the few studies on the monitors show conflicting results. (LYNNE SHALLCROSS / KHN)
A continuous glucose monitor holds a tiny sensor that’s inserted just under the skin, alleviating the need for patients to prick their fingers every day to check blood sugar. The monitor tracks glucose levels all the time, sends readings to patients’ cellphone and doctor, and alerts patients when readings are headed too high or too low.
Nearly 2 million people with diabetes wear the monitors today, twice the number in 2019, according to the investment firm Baird.
There’s little evidence continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) leads to better outcomes for most people with diabetes — the estimated 25 million U.S. patients with Type 2 disease who don’t inject insulin to regulate their blood sugar, health experts say. Still, manufacturers, as well as some physicians and insurers, say the devices help patients control their diabetes by providing near-instant feedback to change diet and exercise compared with once-a-day fingerstick tests. And they say that can reduce costly complications of the disease, such as heart attacks and strokes.
Continuous glucose monitors are not cost-effective for Type 2 diabetes patients who do not use insulin, said Dr. Silvio Inzucchi, director of the Yale Diabetes Center.
Sure, it’s easier to pop a device onto the arm once every two weeks than do multiple finger sticks, which cost less than a $1 a day, he said. But “the price point for these devices is not justifiable for routine use for the average person with Type 2 diabetes.”
Without insurance, the annual cost of using a continuous glucose monitor ranges from nearly $1,000 to $3,000.
Lower Prices Help Propel Use
People with Type I diabetes — who make no insulin — need the frequent data from the monitors in order to inject the proper dose of a synthetic version of the hormone, via a pump or syringe. Because insulin injections can cause life-threatening drops in their blood sugar, the devices also provide a warning to patients when this is happening, particularly helpful while sleeping.
People with Type 2 diabetes, a different disease, do make insulin to control the upswings after eating, but their bodies don’t respond as vigorously as people without the disease. About 20% of Type 2 patients still inject insulin because their bodies don’t make enough and oral medications can’t control their diabetes.
Doctors often recommend that diabetes patients test their glucose at home to track whether they are reaching treatment goals and learn how medications, diet, exercise and stress affect blood sugar levels.
The crucial blood test doctors use, however, to monitor diabetes for people with Type 2 disease is called hemoglobin A1c, which measures average blood glucose levels over long periods of time. Neither finger-prick tests nor glucose monitors look at A1c. They can’t since this test involves a larger amount of blood and must be done in a lab.
The continuous glucose monitors also don’t assess blood glucose. Instead they measure the interstitial glucose level, which is the sugar level found in the fluid between the cells.
Companies seem determined to sell the monitors to people with Type 2 diabetes — those who inject insulin and those who don’t — because it’s a market of more than 30 million people. In contrast, about 1.6 million people have Type 1 diabetes.
Helping to fuel the uptake in demand for the monitors has been a drop in prices. The Abbott FreeStyle Libre, one of the leading and lowest-priced brands, costs $70 for the device and about $75 a month for sensors, which must be replaced every two weeks.
Another factor has been the expansion in insurance coverage.
Nearly all insurers cover continuous glucose monitors for people with Type 1 diabetes, for whom it’s a proven lifesaver. Today, nearly half of people with Type 1 diabetes use a monitor, according to Baird.
A small but growing number of insurers are beginning to cover the device for some Type 2 patients who don’t use insulin, including UnitedHealthcare and Maryland-based CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. These insurers say they have seen initial success among members using the monitors along with health coaches to help keep their diabetes under control.
The few studies — mostly small and paid for by device-makers — examining the impact of the monitors on patient’s health show conflicting results in lowering hemoglobin A1c.
Still, Inzucchi said, the monitors have helped some of his patients who don’t require insulin — and don’t like to prick their fingers — change their diets and lower their glucose levels. Doctors said they’ve seen no proof that the readings get patients to make lasting changes in their diet and exercise routines. They said many patients who don’t use insulin may be better off taking a diabetes education class, joining a gym or seeing a nutritionist.
“I don’t see the extra value with CGM in this population with current evidence we have,” said Dr. Katrina Donahue, director of research at the University of North Carolina Department of Family Medicine. “I’m not sure if more technology is the right answer for most patients.”
Donahue was co-author of a landmark 2017 study in JAMA Internal Medicine that showed no benefit to lowering hemoglobin A1c after one year regularly checking glucose levels through finger-stick testing for people with Type 2 diabetes.
She presumes the measurements did little to change patients’ eating and exercise habits over the long term — which is probably also true of continuous glucose monitors.
“We need to be judicious how we use CGM,” said Veronica Brady, a certified diabetes educator at the University of Texas Health Science Center and spokesperson for the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists. The monitors make sense if used for a few weeks when people are changing medications that can affect their blood sugar levels, she said, or for people who don’t have the dexterity to do finger-stick tests.
Yet, some patients like Trevis Hall credit the monitors for helping them get their disease under control.
Last year, Hall’s health plan, UnitedHealthcare, gave him a monitor at no cost as part of a program to help control his diabetes. He said it doesn’t hurt when he attaches the monitor to his belly twice a month.
The data showed Hall, 53, of Fort Washington, Maryland, that his glucose was reaching dangerous levels several times a day. “It was alarming at first,” he said of the alerts the device would send to his phone.
Over months, the readings helped him change his diet and exercise routine to avert those spikes and bring the disease under control. These days, that means taking a brisk walk after a meal or having a vegetable with dinner.
“It’s made a big difference in my health,” said Hall.
This Market ‘Is Going to Explode’
Makers of the devices increasingly promote them as a way to motivate healthier eating and exercise.
The manufacturers spend millions of dollars pushing doctors to prescribe continuous glucose monitors, and they’re advertising directly to patients on the internet and in TV ads, including a spot starring singer Nick Jonas during this year’s Super Bowl.
Kevin Sayer, CEO of Dexcom, one of the leading makers of the monitors, told analysts last year that the noninsulin Type 2 market is the future. “I’m frequently told by our team that, when this market goes, it is going to explode. It’s not going to be small, and it’s not going to be slow,” he said.
“I believe, personally, at the right price with the right solution, patients will use it all the time,” he added.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.