FARGO — Five years ago, Danika Johnson of Horace, N.D., started losing a lot of weight, had little energy, was constantly dehydrated, drinking a lot of water, and frequently going to the bathroom. It turned out she had Type 1 diabetes.
Now, an 18-year-old freshman at Concordia College, Danika always has sugar and water with her, and wears an insulin pump to keep her alive. She needs to continuously monitor the pump all day.
"I check it a couple of times an hour, and every time I eat,” Danika said. “It’s scary that something could go wrong if I’m not careful. It’s always in the back of my mind, I could die if I don’t manage it.”
On top of all that, even after insurance, the insulin is extremely expensive and costs thousands of dollars.
“It’s a huge financial strain,” said Danelle Johnson, Danika’s mother. “We have cut back our family spending. We’re funneling all our money to keep her alive.”
Many people with diabetes have died in the U.S. because of the enormous cost of insulin. They couldn’t afford the cost of the medication and they dangerously chose to ration it. Those were fatal mistakes.
There is price gouging taking place by the pharmaceutical companies. A $1,300 monthly supply of insulin in the U.S. only costs about $100 in Canada or Mexico. Alec Smith, 26, of Minneapolis, had to pay $1,300 a month in out of pocket costs for his insulin. Because he couldn't afford the exorbitant costs, Alec started rationing his insulin. Less than one month later, Alec’s body was found alone in his apartment.
About eight states, including Minnesota, have passed legislation to provide financial assistance to diabetes patients. Now, it’s North Dakota’s turn. The idea is to put a monthly cap on the cost of insulin and related supplies. The insurance companies would pay the difference. State Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, is proposing such a bill.
“This legislation is necessary because each child or person with diabetes should have access to quality health care no matter their preconditions or financial ability,” Mathern said. “The problem is some families are unable to pay for treatment that their child needs, and as such, the life and death options are less than other children.”
It is time for the North Dakota Legislature to pass this bill.
“These people didn’t decide to get diabetes,” Mathern said. “It gets down to each person’s intrinsic worth.”
“The legislation is necessary because people are losing their lives because of the greed of the people in the supply chain,” Danelle said. “They’re charging way more than it costs and people are dying. We have to find a solution. It’s heartbreaking.”
There are many diabetes patients in North Dakota, such as Danika Johnson. It’s vital that we help them.
“It’s unfair to have something that we need to be so expensive. I won’t be able to afford it,” Danika said. “It is life or death.”
Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.