The Rising Cost of Diabetes in America
Last week I shared my feelings on the way the American media covers diabetes, and how America is now using diabetics as scapegoats for the failing health care system and rising economic costs, blaming a potential "bankruptcy" of the American health care system on diabetics.
What I didn't share with you is how even with health insurance, the rising insurance premiums and co-pays are bankrupting patients like myself who are barely scraping by in this economy.
Yes, I'm one of the guilty parties who actually (gasp) uses their insurance policies so surely I'm to blame. It's kind of like how I have to pay a higher car insurance rate ever since another driver decided to run a red light and smash into another car that then crunched my car as it idled while waiting at a red light. I'm guilty because I was there. Right place. Wrong time.
So, too, in childhood. At eleven, I developed "juvenile" or Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that bankrupted my pancreas of insulin. You can go ahead and blame me and my family for bad genes (though there is no family history of Type 1 diabetes in my family), but no one chooses diabetes. While there certain ethnic groups are more prone to develop Type 2 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes has a strong genetic link, Type 1 diabetes is more or less an equal opportunity destroyer.
So this morning as my busted pancreas and wonky auto-immune system and I approached the pharmacy, I calculated in my head what my co-pays for diabetic supplies would total. I expected to dole out $205 for diabetes related prescriptions alone. I had three other prescriptions filled, so the grand total should have been $265. Instead, the pharmacist nonchalantly asked me to pony up $475!
Turns out, my insurance company instituted a mandatory second deductible of $200 each October (effective: now!) in addition to the annual $500 January deductible on prescription drugs. Each office visit with a doctor comes with a $50 price tag (err, co-pay), so that adds up, too.
Needless to say, my "Express-Pay" debit card wasn't too happy this morning, but thanks to remnants from my final student loan disbursement (that I'll pay nearly double for by the time it's paid off), I had enough to cover this monthly trip to the pharmacy, despite being underemployed for over two years now, thanks in large part to the sluggish economy and myriad budget cuts in public education [my chosen field].
I've contemplated wearing a sign: "English teacher for hire! Will write for food! Will teach for insulin!" It might soon come to that.
Ironically, part of the reason I chose a career as a teacher is because I knew I'd need excellent health insurance, and teachers used to have excellent health coverage with very low co-pays and deductibles [thank, union]. Unfortunately, this changed almost as soon as I began teaching, and by my second year as a public school teacher, I was paying a hefty sum (in relation to what I took home) to "opt-in" to a much scaled back version of what local media deemed "the Cadillac of Health Care plans."
Truthfully? It was no Cadillac. A Honda maybe. In truth, it was simply the kind of health insurance every American deserves. I wish I had it now. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than most.
Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. In fact, were it not for my father, I'd currently have no health insurance coverage at all. Adjunct teachers have no benefits--no health-insurance--nor do writers.
Sadly, even with health insurance, I can barely afford what it costs to keep me healthy and alive and kickin'. Sometimes I have to forgo all but the insulin that I absolutely need to keep me alive.
I've come to despise the pharmacy, though really it's not their fault. I swallowed hard as I handed over nearly half of my monthly income to the pharmacist. He smiled kindly (apologetically?) as he handed me the receipt.
When I looked in the bag he handed me I saw it filled with the basic necessities. Insulin. Test strips. Prescription medications. There was nothing fancy in there. Mostly, I'm just buying what my body should naturally produce, but no longer does.
Of course, insulin is no cure for diabetes. That much should be clear by now. I'm not asking for pity. I'm not invested in seeing myself as a victim. What's sad in this scenario is that I'm extremely blessed. I'm one of the lucky ones.
I have health insurance. I have a roof over my head. I have a family that can help me out when times are tough. I now have an insulin pump. I have good doctors and hospitals. I have a supportive community. And still, the cost is far too high. Still, I'm barely staying afloat.
Something has got to change in this country. But blaming our sick and poor for being sick and poor doesn't help. Nor does scapegoating and sensationalism. Real change will only come when American realize good medical care and health insurance should not be a privilege.
Medical care and health coverage should be the right of all Americans regardless of income level, background, or health conditions. That's right--I'm talking about a basic human right. Unless and until our county reaches that consensus, I fear what the future holds for the millions of Americans living without health insurance, and the ones who may have health insurance coverage, but can't fully afford the rising costs of healthy living.