My name is Barbara Lucas, I’m a retired registered nurse with 45 years of experience, and I’m here to tell you the uncomfortable truth about how preventable spiraling diabetic complications caused by price gouging really are.
Over the course of my career, I have spent many years working in outpatient adult medicine, chronic conditions programs, and palliative care. Prior to that, most of my in-patient hospital work was with women and children’s departments, and in that capacity I took care of many young patients with Type I diabetes. These young people are totally dependent on insulin to control juvenile onset diabetes.
I’ve seen the insulin crisis first-hand: when prices for insulin become exorbitantly high, because Big Pharma can get away with it, innocent people end up dying from skipping or reducing their insulin doses. These people are victims, and they are at risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, a result of high blood sugars that can lead to coma and death. These victims are our family, neighbors, and community.
Parents of children with diabetes tend to be especially concerned if their children cannot be covered by their parents’ health insurance, or if they cannot afford insurance. Even with health insurance, high insulin costs can be transferred to patients by way of higher premiums and copays for drugs.
I’ve seen the fall out of people trying to manage diabetes without insurance — including in my own family. When somebody with diabetes cannot afford their insulin or health insurance that includes preventative care programs, health education, and follow-up care for chronic conditions, a whole slew of medical complications often arise — complications that are largely preventable. This in turn leads to people flocking to emergency rooms for expensive care that often ends up just being a bandaid over a larger problem.
And, if a patient is sick or injured enough to require hospitalization, that price tag skyrockets quickly. If a patient cannot afford health insurance and or the cost of their care, that balance due is taken from the value of their home, their car, any large assets — if they have them. If they don’t have any assets of that size, then the cost is taken from state or federal programs like Medicaid or Medicare. In the end, that person has lost a home, a large chunk of their assets (if not all of it), and sometimes they’ve often become disabled and dependent on a disability check. That is a loss to the patient and to taxpayers — financially and psychologically.
My brother-in-law is a prime example. During the recent recession, his diabetes flared and went uncontrolled. When he lost his job, he lost his insurance and could not afford the oral diabetic agents he needed to be healthy, let alone pay rent and provide for his family. He developed all the preventable complications of diabetes that, when left unchecked, are irreversible: lost vision, neuropathy leading to amputation, kidney failure leading to dialysis, and heart failure.
He ended up being hospitalized with ketoacidosis a couple of times on an emergent basis. My brother-in-law was just 50 years old when this downward spiral started.
Now, he’s on disability and enrolled in Medicaid; his family has been through unbelievable heartbreak and hardship. My family is just one example of too many in America whose everyday reality remains a battle because they’ve been priced out by drug corporations.
What most folks don’t understand is that if we upstream diabetes care by making insulin affordable and accessible to all who need it, we would be a much healthier and more economically robust society.
Everyday Americans cannot afford to be priced out of their own survival. Trust me, I’m a lifelong health care provider: it’s time for drug corporations and the politicians they pay off to be held accountable.
We need affordable insulin — NOW.