The lengths that diabetics go to get needed insulin is outlined in a new government report showing nearly a quarter of adults last year asked their doctor for cheaper medication.
Thirteen percent skimped on the medication or went without, according to a brief by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Healthcare Statistics.
Julia Flaherty, 25, uses a third option utilized by millions of diabetics across the country: Get cheaper drugs from Canada. The Appleton woman was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10. Even back then, drug costs was a concern.
"There were times throughout my childhood where I felt like a burden because even being young, I could see how much my medicinal costs were a financial stressor on my parents. They, of course, never said that. They always loved me and cared for me in the way that I needed," she recalled.
Now an adult, Flaherty has her own insurance, but she rarely reaches her $3,600 deductible until the end of year. A 90-day supply of the insulin she uses, Humalog, costs $1,800 in the U.S. So, she pays out of pocket for insulin she gets through the mail from a pharmacy in Canada — for $315.
"I was very concerned about this at first. I thought 'Is it legal? Am I going to get in trouble for doing this?'" she said.
So far, she hasn’t. It's technically illegal, but the government hasn't cracked down on individuals getting prescription drugs from other countries. Last month, the Trump administration announced it would try and create a way for Americans to legally import lower-cost prescriptions from Canada.
Pressure is building across the country on the issue.
On Wednesday, Aug. 20, Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order creating a task force focused on reducing prescription drug prices. In May, the governor of Colorado signed legislation capping insurance co-payments on insulin to $100 a month.
A Democratic lawmaker in Wisconsin has proposed similar legislation.
"What I'm trying to do is give everyone the opportunity to have a healthy life. People are rationing insulin and they are dying," said state Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay.
In a widely reported story which first appeared in The Washington Post, Josh Wilkerson, 27, of Leesburg, Virginia, died after substituting prescription insulin with an over-the-counter medication.
Another family in Virginia sought help with funeral costs after 24-year-old Jada Louis died from diabetes complications because she couldn’t afford insulin and went without.
"Other countries have been able to hold down prices for insulin and other medically necessary drugs," said Hansen. "Insulin in Europe costs about one-sixth what it does in the United States. And for the record, we're manufacturing this stuff."
Flaherty supports Hansen's bill, saying her workaround of getting insulin from Canada is extremely inconvenient.
Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2019, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.
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