Taking Cheap Insulin To Pay For Wedding Proves Deadly for Diabetic Groom-To-Be
The skyrocketing cost of medicine in the United States has taken another life. When Josh Wilkerson, 26, aged out of his step-father’s insurance, he and his fiancee turned to cheap insulin to help them afford their medical costs and save for their wedding. He never made it to the altar.
What Went Wrong?
Wilkerson, who suffered from type 1 diabetes, had already abandoned his insulin pump, reverting back to the use of syringes, due to the cost. After he lost his insurance coverage, he could no longer afford the $1200/month insulin and began rationing his supply. At this point, his doctor recommended he try ReliOn, an over-the-counter brand of insulin available for $25 a vial. With insulin costs increasing by 197% from 2002 to 2013, this has become a recommendation from doctors to help fill the gap. (1)
ReliOn is known as ‘human insulin’ and takes longer to become effective. The artificial analogue insulin typically used for diabetes management is absorbed faster by the body than human insulin. When switching to ReliOn, both how much to take and how often to take it need to be considered. Because it comes in a vial, it must also be drawn up for each individual dose. There is no option to use an insulin pen with ReliOn. (2)
Wilkerson’s fiancee, also a type 1 diabetic, switched to ReliOn some months prior. While she was fine, Wilkerson began experiencing stomach problems, mood swings, and high blood sugar levels in response to the new medication. According to Wilkerson’s mother, “It didn’t work for his body”. (3)
An Unthinkable Choice
Diabetics across the country may face an unthinkable choice – between the high cost of life-saving medication and life itself. The situation is particularly dire for those suffering from type 1 diabetes who would face certain death without insulin. According to a 2016 article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, not only have insulin prices ballooned, but there are also more people needing treatment. Treatment intensity for diabetes rose 2.5% between 2002 and 2013. And while insulin prices have spiked, the cost of other drugs used to manage diabetes have either fallen or increased at a much slower rate (1).
As of 2015, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes and approximately one-third of American adults have pre-diabetes. This is a significant percentage of the population that will continue to be subject to increasing insulin costs. As a result, they may have to face some tough decisions about how to afford the medical care they need if they lack sufficient insurance coverage. It is also an increasingly vulnerable percentage of the population as diabetes affects 25% of American seniors, who are often on a fixed income. (4)
Properly treating diabetes is crucial to avoid further health complications, including blindness, stroke, heart disease, nerve damage, and death. Had Wilkerson had access to the medicine he needed, his death could have been avoided. Instead, he had to rely on cheap insulin to make do. Failure to access affordable insulin may contribute to increased health care costs elsewhere. And for Josh Wilkerson’s family, it means grieving a loved one.
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