Sunday, January 6, 2008

Insulin Blues


One package Humalog (good for 3+ months) and 1 Humalog "pen"

This IS political.

Lee (my husband) is diabetic. Type One. Shoots up insulin every time he eats (4-5 times a day) plus 2 additional doses twice a day as a "base." Before he takes his insulin, he has to test his blood by pricking his finger. I have lost track of how many times a day needles of one kind or another pass through his skin. As if that is not bad enough, get this story...

In July 2007, we were in Amsterdam for a few days on our way to Florence. Lee had forgotten to bring extra needles (aka syringes)for injecting insulin on this trip. At that time, he was using syringes and insulin drawn from a small glass vial. Now, we had just seen "Sicko" before leaving on this trip so thought to ourselves, "Well, cool, we're in Europe - let's just see if Michael Moore really knows what he's talking about - or maybe he was just exaggerating."

We found a pharmacy and got in a rather long line. When a middle aged man asked if he could help us (in Dutch), we responded (in English), "Yes, please." (He immediately switched to English, naturally - like I would casually switch to my Dutch if he were in my country, right????!!!!)

Lee explained that we were traveling and he needed needles to inject his insulin, showing the pharmacist the small vial to prove he was legitimate, not looking for a system to transport his next dose of heroin. The pharmacist explained that they do not carry syringes at all (probably because of the problems with drugs in Amsterdam), but could sell him the "insulin pen" . We were familiar with it - Lee has used it years ago. It looks like a fat pen, full of the insulin. You dial up the amount needed and inject it. It is rather handy - needle and insulin in one and you can put it in your pocket.

Well, he didn't need insulin - only needles. The insulin is the expensive part. But, since it was all they had, we would buy it. It also only came in packages of 5 - about a 3 - 4-month supply. We were concerned about the cost based on our knowledge of the price of insulin in the US. It is about $90.00 a vial in the US for less than one month's supply.

We asked about the cost - a little surprised that we could even buy it over the counter. "40 euro," he said. (About $55.00 at the time.) For all five pens. For a THREE month supply.

We looked at each other and just started laughing. The pharmacist looked puzzled - why were we laughing. We looked around the room for hidden cameras - certain that this was another Michael Moore moment. When we regained composure, we explained to the pharmacist what we pay in the US. It was incomprehensible to him.

We are not citizens of the Netherlands, or of the EU. We were foreigners. He did not have a prescription. And, yet, because he needed it (and would be desperate for it soon enough) Lee was able to buy a 3+ month supply of insulin for just over $14. per month. When it ran out in early October, a friend who was traveling to Amsterdam picked up another 3 month supply for the same low price.

Just this week he ran out of his "Euro insulin." He ordered a box of the pens (same brand - Lilly) from the Edina Walgreens. Now, this is the first time he had ordered the pens here instead of the vial and syringes. He stood at the counter, reached into his wallet for his debit card and heard the pharmacist say, "That will be $160.00, please." There was no laughing this time, no looking around for hidden cameras. This is America.They swiped his card, he signed the receipt, and carried home the medication that keeps him alive.

For the "privilege" of buying the set of five insulin pens at only $160.00 instead of paying the full price of $400.00 (the retail price in the US), he simply has to pay Blue Cross $575.00 per month for a health insurance policy to get the generous co-pay. (This is for a SINGLE policy!) Then, I have the privilege of paying an additional $250 for myself. Don't you just love this country?

Sure, we write those checks. We have the cash. But it means we don't have the cash for something else. I would much rather be putting that in a savings account for our future, or paying a little more tuition for my kid's college so they could start their life with fewer loans. Or send a little extra to Landon, my step-son, to set up a college account for their newborn since college will probably be $250,000 (A YEAR!!!) when his son goes to school. I would even happily pay more for gasoline if I thought it would lower our consumption of oil and lead to sound energy policy. There are plenty of ways I could spend that money that would make me feel a lot better about our country.

Right now, I'm thinking it is time for another trip to Amsterdam. This time, we'll take an empty bag and fill it with a year's supply of medication. The savings will pay for the trip.

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