Health or Wealth? Tough Choice for Diabetics

Though this may seem like a great way for some to slim their waistline and save their wallets, spreading resources thin may also mean testing the body's limits.

For good health, "the objective is to keep your blood sugars as close to normal as possible and do whatever you need to get that done," said Dr. Keith Campbell, a certified diabetes educator and professor in diabetes care at the Washington State University College of Pharmacy.

Using medicine appropriately "will save so much money in the long run," Campbell said. "You know how much a kidney transplant is or a leg amputation is?"

There are immediate effects of poor diabetes management, as well. Unattended glucose levels can bring about diabetic comas. In addition, the disorienting effects of low blood sugar levels have been known to account for auto accidents and injuries on the job.

"If people don't take their medication, the care they get is suboptimal because the [emergency room] is supposed to just be for emergencies," Campbell said.

Stateside Solutions

Some companies are beginning to pick up the slack, at least when it comes to medications. American pharmacies, such as Wal-Mart and CVS, offer discount programs for those who qualify, some offering generic drugs for as low as $4.

At both Wal-Mart and CVS, lower prices apply to Metformin and Glipizide, drugs for Type 2 diabetics. Still, these discounts do not apply to brand name insulins commonly used by those with Type 1 diabetes.

"I am using some of the newest insulin, which is the most expensive, of course, and there is not a generic form," said Tharp, who takes the highly prescribed Humalog insulin.

But those with diabetes often find themselves a long way from making ends meet. And high costs are not only an issue for those in retirement, but also for those preparing to enter the work force.

"None of my friends on a grad student's budget have to struggle with a lifelong disease, so I'm the one that has to budget," Imboden said.

When discount pharmacy programs are not enough, charitable organizations, like IPUMP.org, can often lend a helping hand

IPUMP is one of many organizations providing supplies to those who could not otherwise afford them. CEO and founder Lahle Wolfe knows the financial hardships of chronic disease from personal experience. The mother of two diabetic children and a diabetic herself, Wolfe lost her home four years ago to pay off medical debt.

Since its inception, her organization has helped more than 6,000 diabetics afford health care necessities. She receives letters and phone calls each day from others in need. Some of the correspondence is particularly difficult: "[Some ask], 'Do I feed my other children, or do I give insulin to my diabetic child?'" Wolfe said.

Test strips and insulin pump materials are among the organization's most requested supplies. Insulin pumps are small, electronic devices that continually administer insulin via a catheter. They are widely considered to be the pinnacle of diabetes management. However, pumps come with a hefty price tag, which prevents many from using the new technology.

Once diabetics have used this device, Wolfe said, "[they] are desperate to stay on their pumps; it's much more expensive than shots [and] it's the first luxury in diabetes [they must] give up."

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