The high cost of insulin, which has risen by triple-digit percentages in the last five years, is endangering the lives of many diabetics who can’t afford the price tag, say Connecticut physicians who treat diabetics. The doctors say that the out-of-pocket costs for insulin, ranging from $25 to upwards of $600 a month, depending on insurance coverage, are forcing many of their low-income patients to choose between treatment and paying their bills. “Some of my patients have to make the choice between rent or insulin,” said Dr. Bismruta Misra, an endocrinologist with the Stamford Health Medical Group. “So they spread out taking insulin [injecting it less frequently than a doctor has prescribed] or don’t take it.”
Experts and recent studies point to drug companies’ long-standing patents and the lack of generic or “biosimilar” insulin as key reasons why the drug is so expensive. A study by Philip Clarke, a professor of health economics at the University of Melbourne in Australia, reported that the price of insulin has tripled from 2002-2013.
Thousands of Connecticut residents are prediabetic but don’t know it and if they did, doctors say, early detection and lifestyle changes could prevent diabetes from developing in most people at risk. The state Department of Public Health reports that 83,000 adults in Connecticut have prediabetes, which occurs when a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as Type 2 diabetes. Nearly 9 percent of adults in the state—about 257,000 people—have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes has few early warning signs, but a blood test by a primary care doctor can detect at-risk patients. Once detected, changes in diet and exercise, sometimes with medication, can stave off the disease, doctors say.
For more than 20 years, the Citadel of Love, a Pentecostal church, has anchored one of Hartford’s most economically-challenged neighborhoods in the city’s North End. In its outreach ministries, the church offers clothing giveaways and free meals. Under the leadership of Pastor Marichal Monts, a Hartford native who grew up just down the street, a church committee met recently to discuss some of the flock’s health challenges. Many of the members come from the area, where the U.S. Census says the median household income is just $20,434. (Compare that to the state’s median household income that hovers around $70,000.)
High on the list of health challenges discussed by the leaders was Type 2 diabetes, which was once called adult-onset diabetes.
A Connecticut veteran who has spent years trying to gain Agent Orange benefits for veterans who served in Korea in 1967 has persuaded the Veterans of Foreign Wars and two other veterans’ organizations to take his case before Congress. On Wednesday, VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. will ask Congress to pass a law requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to grant VA health care and compensation to veterans who served in Korea in 1967 if they have illnesses linked to Agent Orange. Biedrzycki’s prepared testimony states that current VA rules exclude many veterans “who now suffer from diseases and illnesses that have been directly linked to the chemical defoliant.”
Carlos Fuentes, VFW senior legislative associate, said documents provided by Army veteran Eugene Clarke of Redding swayed the national organization to seek the benefits change through Congress. The documents include proof of test spraying of defoliants in Korea in 1967 and of veterans’ exposure to Korean government spraying. Fuentes said VFW efforts to convince the VA to change its policy have been unsuccessful.
Connecticut’s diabetes rate ranks lower than the national average, but Hispanics and African-Americans are more than twice as likely to have the disease compared with their white neighbors and are at greater risk of dying from diabetes-related causes. Approximately 250,000 Connecticut adults (8 percent) have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and an estimated 83,000 state residents don’t realize they have the disease, according to 2011-13 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nationally, 29.1 million people (9.3 percent) have diabetes and 8.1 million people don’t know they have the disease, reports the CDC. Connecticut’s Hispanics (14.6 percent) and African-Americans (14.1 percent) have significantly higher rates of diabetes than whites (6.7 percent). In addition, adults with annual household incomes below $25,000 are 2.3 times more likely to have diagnosed diabetes compared with adults with household incomes over $75,000, according to the CDC.