‘It is crippling’ — NJ diabetics struggling to afford insulin
FRANKLIN (Gloucester) — Debbie Remsen and her husband both have decent-paying jobs, and her insurance plan through work is no worse than the plans of most New Jersey residents.
But they can't afford to own a home. They can't entertain the thought of a new car. Any vacations, or even weekend trips, are out of the question. The couple hasn't been on a date in two years.
That's because they're devoting much of their income to something more important — the health of their 8-year-old son Bryce, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 5.
"It's not just the insulin. It's the insulin pump supplies, it's the adhesives, the adhesive removers, the alcohol wipes, the syringes," Remsen said of the costs related to diabetes. "It is crippling. Truly it is devastating."
The couple from Malaga puts more than $400 out of pocket for insulin pods on a monthly basis. That doesn't include a $60 copay for each box ordered. A three-month supply of insulin costs another $150, and another $75 goes to each glucagon kit needed in the event of a low-sugar emergency. Add their son's network of physicians — including a nutritionist and endocrinologist — and the co-pays pile up.
"It gives me so much anxiety to think about how I'm going to pull this off for Bryce," Remsen said.
But she and her husband have no choice, Remsen added. If they want their son to live as normal of a life as possible, he'll be insulin dependent 24/7 unless a cure can be found for a pancreas that fails to make insulin.
Remsen's story is just a sample of the financial burden facing countless families throughout the Garden State, due to higher-deductible insurance plans and the rising cost of medicine. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, "about 650,000 New Jersey adults are aware of having diabetes of any type." Note that number does not include minors.
Not all diabetics are as insulin-dependent as young Bryce. With Type 2, a milder form, one's pancreas typically produces some insulin, but it may not be enough or the body's cells may be resistant.
In Bryce's case, a daily trip to school includes much more than books and a healthy lunch. He has an insulin kit and emergency kit on hand at all times. He makes numerous trips to the nurse each day so he can be provided with the right amount of insulin to compensate for his snack and meals. The school district has arranged Bryce's bus route to make sure he's on the bus no longer than 20 minutes each way.
According to Janet Longo, a certified diabetes instructor and a board member of the Paramus-based Diabetes Foundation, the average price of insulin tripled between 2002 and 2013. The foundation, which offers a 60-day supply of insulin and other items to struggling residents, recently saw a 7.8 percent jump in the price of the most popular types of insulin they distribute.
"It's gotten worse. This is a problem I had not seen earlier," Longo said.
The foundation, which also connects diabetics with support and education, has seen some clients make unfortunate moves in order to escape the financial hardship of the disease, such as shopping for samples from doctors, using expired drugs, or purchasing insulin on eBay.
Longo said there are some programs in place — even from insulin manufacturers — to help diabetes sufferers with costs. Customers could save up to 40 percent on insulin from Eli Lilly and Company by utilizing their Blink Health platforms introduced in December, for example.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.