The Rising Cost of Diabetes Care
In 2014, almost 30 million Americans suffered from diabetes, a health condition in which the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar is impaired. Of these, only 1.25 million Americans had type 1 diabetes, while the rest had type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, almost 7.2 million Americans are estimated to suffer from diabetes without a medical diagnosis.
In the United States, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death, killing more people than AIDS and breast cancer combined. Almost 80,000 people die annually directly due to this illness, while more than 250,000 deaths are diabetes-related. Every year, 1.5 million more Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, and 84 million are pre-diabetic.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is caused by a damaged pancreas, type 2 diabetes is typically related to a diet high in carbohydrates. Every year, the U.S. spends more than $327 billion as a result of the diabetes epidemic; almost $237 billion is spent on treatments and $90 billion is lost due to reduced productivity. This amount is expected to grow in the U.S. as more people acquire diabetes at a record pace.
What Is Diabetes?
In a normally functioning human body, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin is essential for transporting glucose, i.e. sugar, from your blood into the body’s cells. In a healthy person, insulin production is ramped up following a meal to assist in cellular glucose absorption. However, a diabetic is not able to produce insulin or their cells have become resistant to the action of insulin.
Without insulin, sugar remains in the blood stream where it can damage various tissues and organs. Normally, glucose would be absorbed by cells, where it would be stored or metabolized for energy, but diabetes slows or stops this transport into cells. Insulin regulates how much glucose is in the blood, maintaining a steady energy reserve all the time.
In people with diabetes, high blood sugar harms many important organs. Among the many bodily systems that sustained glucose affects is the kidneys, eyes, and blood vessels. This may cause you to urinate more often, lose your eyesight, develop chronic pain or lose your limbs due to poor blood circulation.
In type 1 diabetes, your immune system attacks your pancreas, destroying its ability to produce insulin. That is why type 1 diabetes sufferers must regularly monitor their blood sugar and take artificial insulin to regulate their glucose levels. Without this insulin injection, the cells would starve. Without immediate medical intervention, your body could start to shut down and you could die.
Type 2 diabetes has a slightly different cause and active mechanism. In some cases, a person may lose the ability to produce insulin, but many type 2 diabetics may also become resistant to the effects of insulin. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, the result is that the diabetic has difficulty regulating glucose levels. In many cases, medications including insulin may be used to assist in glucose metabolization, but for some people, maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy and proper exercise is sufficient to manage this chronic condition.
How Rising Costs Are Killing People
Synthetic insulin is a lifesaving medication that many diabetics need to maintain a healthy blood glucose level. Without insulin, the human body’s ability regulate metabolic rates is severely impaired and may lead to death.
Unfortunately, the price of insulin in the U.S. has doubled in just the past six years. One vial of insulin is now more than $250, and many patients use two to four vials each month. In some cases, some diabetics must pay as much as $1,300 a month. Without insurance, that is a staggering sum for most households. This skyrocketing cost has put the 1.25 million Americans with type 1 diabetes—as well as many with more serious cases of type 2 diabetes—in jeopardy.
Most of the major players in the production and distribution of synthetic insulin point the finger at each other for this elevation in price. Many major pharmacies like CVS have negotiated lower prices, but they haven’t passed on these savings to their customers.
Some blame must also be laid upon the three primary manufacturers of insulin in the U.S.: Sanofi of France, Novo Nordisk of Denmark and Eli Lilly in the U.S. In fact, there is an ongoing legal case against the three companies, claiming that they are endangering public health for the sake of higher profits.
In response to rising costs, many diabetics are resorting to rationing. If they can’t afford health insurance or are ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare, many people choose to cut their dosage or miss a shot. For many others, it means sacrificing major life opportunities like going to college or getting married in an effort to remain insured.
How to Keep Diabetes Care Costs Low
If you are living diabetes, then there are some things you can do to lower your care costs. If you need insulin and are uninsured, then you might want to look into patient assistance programs. You may need to demonstrate eligibility for a specific PAP, but if you do qualify then you may get low-cost or free insulin. In some cases, you may even apply for a discount with the manufacturer.
Even if you don’t need costly medications like insulin, you still probably spend a lot on testing supplies. If you need test strips, you may be able to find them at discounted rates from online wholesale retailers that sell them in bulk.
You may also want to consider joining a clinical trial. If you are not afraid to be a test subject for a new diabetes product or study, a trial will often provide free supplies and more in-depth care. Before joining a trial, consult with your doctor first.
Finally, your most important safeguard against a worsening health condition like diabetes is having health insurance. If you don’t have coverage options through your employer, you may try Medicaid or one of the health plans on the Obamacare marketplaces.
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