WASHINGTON — Mutima Jackson-Anderson was the caregiver for her mom Ruby Neeson in the last few years of her life.
Neeson had a distinguished career in Atlanta, having worked for the Department of Parks and Recreation and later as a teacher and freelance writer.
But even with all her hard work, Neeson struggled to get health insurance, and often couldn’t afford the lifesaving insulin she needed to treat her type 2 diabetes.
“It wasn’t enough to cover her healthcare costs, insulin and the additional supplies that she needed,” said Jackson-Anderson.
That meant Neeson often went without insulin – a dangerous risk for someone with diabetes.
Neeson died in 2006 from diabetes complications.
“She definitely absolutely did not take her insulin a lot of times and I know that contributed to her premature passing,” said Jackson-Anderson.
Her mom’s experiences led Jackson-Anderson to form a diabetes awareness organization named after her mother.
Now, 17 years after her mom’s death, access to insulin still remains a barrier for millions of Americans.
A new bipartisan Senate report led by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) reveals there are 813 U.S. counties considered to be insulin deserts.
These are areas with both high rates of uninsured people and people with diabetes.
The report shows the insulin deserts are most concentrated in the south and southeastern parts of the country.
“In Insulin Deserts, the average prevalence rate of diabetes is 10.2% compared to 8.4% in non-Deserts. Among non-elderly individuals, 16.1% of those in Insulin Deserts are uninsured, compared to 8.3% in non-Deserts,” the report said.
One in five Americans taking insulin pay more than $70 a month for insulin, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
For the uninsured, the cost can be several hundred dollars a month.
“I’ve met people like that who are literally meeting folks in parking lots, getting insulin from friends whose relatives had died,” Warnock told our Washington News Bureau.
We spoke with Warnock about the findings and about a bipartisan bill he’s leading with Kennedy that would cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for both the uninsured and people with private insurance.
It comes after Congress passed a $35-a-month cap on insulin for seniors on Medicare last year.
“This is a common-sense achievable solution,” said Warnock. “When you talk about unmanaged diabetes, you’re talking about the leading causes of blindness. You’re talking about kidney disease and people going on dialysis. You’re talking about amputations.”
“Insulin doesn’t cost that much to make, and I don’t begrudge the companies who sell insulin,” said Kennedy. “I don’t begrudge them making a profit, but it is bone-deep-down-to-the-marrow stupid for us to allow someone, whose diabetes can be managed by taking insulin, not to take that insulin because they can’t afford it. That’s immoral, and that makes no sense in terms of dollars and cents costs to the rest of the American people.”
It’s a measure Jackson-Anderson believes can help save people like her mom.
“I think she would still be here if she could afford her medications, specifically the insulin she needed,” said Jackson-Anderson.
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