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'Diabetic communities' support each other in fight against rising cost of insulin, supplies

Dawn and Michael Doty of Litchfield are on the fringes of financial insecurity. They hope as they manage the cost of caring for their two diabetic children, Hunter, 20, and Emma, 18, will not break their insulin pumps before their health insurance deductible is reached.

“I’m telling you,” Dawn Doty said. “When our deductible is met, I stockpile, I become a diabetic hoarder. Even if I know we’re not going to use all those syringes, I get (them). That’s when I will get whatever insurance will allow me to get.”

Theirs is a story not uncommon to diabetics who have seen the cost of supplies, especially insulin, skyrocket in recent years. The story of one such struggle came to light earlier this year as the Minnesota Legislature debated an insulin emergency fund.

Alec Smith, 26, of Minneapolis died in 2018 after he was removed from his mother’s health insurance, could not afford the $1,300 monthly cost of insulin, and began rationing his insulin. State lawmakers attempted to take action this past session, but failed to pass a measure to provide lifesaving medication in emergency cases such as Smith’s.

As the cost of insulin and diabetes supplies nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016, some have found it necessary to ration their insulin by taking less than the prescribed amount or skipping doses — a decision that can lead to serious illness and hospitalization, and sometimes even death.

In June, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, introduced the Emergency Access to Insulin Act for diabetics. The bill would provide federal grants to states to provide emergency access. The funding for those grants could come from a fee assessed to companies that overcharge for insulin. The fee would increase if a company attempted to raise prices to offset the fee, Smith said.

Only three U.S. companies manufacture insulin: Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk. They hold the patents to the medicine and frequently change the formula in small ways to extend their patents, Smith and others said. This effectively prevents competition that would lower insulin prices – and the manufacturer’s profits.

“The amount of concentration and the monopoly of power of these big insulin manufacturers (are) having a terrible impact on American families,” Smith said. “These three big insulin manufacturers made a total profit after taxes in 2018 of over $14 billion. Meanwhile, Minnesotans and Americans are paying the price. So the theory (is) applying a fee to these manufacturers to help pay for the emergency needs that people sometimes find themselves in.”

The Doty children both have type 1 diabetes, and they cannot leave the house without their little bags of insulin and diabetes supplies, their mother said.

“You can’t just rely on your insulin pump, because it can malfunction,” Dawn explained. “So you need something to give yourself insulin if your pump malfunctions.”

Emma uses insulin vials, and Hunter uses insulin pens that come in a pack of five.

“My son does not use a pump anymore,” she said. “My daughter uses a pump. They also wear Dexcoms (continuous glucose sensors). It’s another thing that they insert into their body, and it checks their blood sugar for them and reads it to their phone.”

Hunter and Emma are covered by their parent’s medical insurance, for which the Dotys pay more than $7,200 annually. In addition, the policy has a $5,700 deductible.

“So at the beginning of every year is when the struggle is real, because it’s all out of pocket ‘til we get that $5,700 paid off,” Dawn said. “We can keep them on my insurance until they’re 26. But I do not know, I hope to God they’ll have good-paying jobs with good insurance. Otherwise, they would not be able to afford (it) coming out of school with school loans. So we don’t want our kids to be 27, off of our insurance and rationing their insulin, or trying to save it, or use their old insulin.”

Without medical insurance, the Dotys would pay about $2,000 a month for insulin and other diabetes supplies, Dawn said. Most people who have type 1 diabetes, because they are so dependent on insulin, can develop life-threatening illness in less than one day if they miss insulin doses, according to Children with Diabetes, an advocate and global resource organization that provides support, education and inspiration to families living with diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 30.3 million Americans, which is 9.4 percent of the population, has diabetes. It was the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2015, according to the American Diabetes Association. Also in that year, diabetes was mentioned as a cause of death in a total of 252,806 certificates, ADA reported.

Additionally, 84.1 million Americans are pre-diabetic, a condition, which if left untreated, can lead to type 2 diabetes in five years, according to the CDC.

Informal diabetes support groups look out for each other. The Dotys have been there for a 25-year-old-man, who had medical insurance that ran out at the end of the year, so they provided insulin for him at times, Dawn said.

“People are sharing supplies all the time,” she said. “It’s just something you have to do. We just recently gave some to somebody in New London. So we all, we just kind of share. We needed things, too. You kind (of) get into this little … it’s like a diabetic community, but it’s not like we’re all meeting every week or anything like that. I know who they are, and where they are … when I need something.”

Taylor Schroeder of Foley, Minnesota, who is a registered nurse for St. Cloud Hospital, said she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 7. People have shared diabetes supplies with her, and she has shared in the past too, Schroeder said.

“Luckily I have decent insurance now through my work,” she said. “But while I was growing up and on my parent’s insurance, we would pay more than $700 a month for just my insulin.”

Every week there is either a doctor’s bill or hospital bill that arrives in the Dotys’ mail, Dawn said. This is just the reality of her family’s life, but to say it’s a struggle is not true, she said.

“I don’t want to make it sound bad,” Dawn said. “You do what you do. I don’t want the kids to think it’s like ‘Oh God.’ They have to know the cost of it, (which) they do. But I don’t want to make it seem like ‘Oh God, all they do is talk about the cost of it and the money of it,’ when you would do anything or pay anything to keep them alive.”

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Preliminary plans show new, secure entrances at ACGC schools

Once renovations at Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City schools are completed, most people will enter the building through new, secured entrances.

Architect Jonathan Pettigrew from LHB Inc. of Minneapolis presented preliminary drawings for the new entrances and renovations during the ACGC School Board meeting July 22. He noted that student safety and security had been the No. 1 priority at both the elementary and middle/high school campuses when the school board asked for — and received — public support for a $16 million bond referendum last November.

The new main doors will be more visible to school front office staff and include security cameras and communications in addition to remote door lock equipment. People may exit the schools through other doors, but those doors will not allow entrance from the outside, except at certain times of the day or for special events.

A second priority was replacing and renovating the district’s aging mechanical systems within the buildings — particularly at the elementary building in Atwater, where approximately two-thirds of the money will be spent. The new systems are designed to more efficiently heat, light and cool the buildings and should reduce future maintenance and operating costs.

Another priority at the elementary school was providing for expansion of pre-kindergarten classes and creating flexible space to allow for future growth. An elevator will be installed to make the second floor in Atwater more accessible. Classrooms and administrative offices will be remodeled to better accommodate current and future needs.

In both buildings, work will be done to maintain and protect the existing building from deterioration by doing things like replacing crumbling stucco with metal sheathing. The end result should be buildings that are not only more efficient, but more aesthetically pleasing and conducive to a learning environment, Pettigrew noted in his report.

Preliminary floor plans were part of Pettigrew’s presentation, and those are being fine-tuned in the process of preparing full construction documents. He anticipates that these drawings will be completed in September, when bids will be sought to do the work. It is hoped that the process will allow the school board to select a contractor by the end of October, so that work on the project can be completed during the 2020 construction season. The early work will be phased so that school programming may continue during the construction project. Some staff will operate in temporary settings.

Preliminary drawings and information may be viewed at the district office.

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Meeker County Fair participants eager to share their knowledge

A 4-H member since she was young, Ruby Radunz has always viewed the Meeker County Fair as a time to demonstrate some of what she has learned through her club experiences.

Judy Moen, meanwhile, enjoys sharing her love for and knowledge of gardening through the entries she makes in a variety of county fair categories.

For Radunz and Moen — and hundreds of others throughout Meeker County — showtime arrives this week.

The fair runs Thursday through Sunday at the Meeker County Fairgrounds in Litchfield.

Radunz actually started her fair experience a little early, participating with her dog, Sugar, in the dog show and agility event this past Saturday at the fairgrounds. It continues today with general projects, followed by showing her rabbit and chicken.

“I do all of the agility where (Sugar) jumps through a tunnel and goes through hoops,” Radunz said. “Rallies where you see the signs on the ground and … do what’s instructed for the signs. Obedience is where the judge tells you to like sit, lay down your dog and then I do showmanship, which is just showing off your animal.”

Radunz will show her rabbit at 8 a.m. Thurday, and at 1 p.m. she will show her chicken at the Steffes Show Arena.

“I’ve been showing chickens for about 10 years,” Radunz said. “I’ve gone down to State Fair for at least five (years). So on Wednesday we bring in the chickens or bring in the animals, and the general projects that I do, as in like planting, crafts, photography (and) animal science … general projects get judged on Wednesday, and then the animals are spread out between Wednesday and Sunday to get judged.”

As a gardener, Moen loves educating others, she said. The county fair is a fun time for her, because it allows her to do demonstrate her produce and gardening knowledge.

“In the past, I have exhibited hundreds of flowers and vegetables,” Moen said. “Helped watch over the exhibits, helped educate and (have) been the judge at both the Meeker County Fair and Minnesota State Fair. This year I also plan on trying to educate my grandchildren by encouraging them to plant, maintain, and exhibit at the fair.”

Moen’s love of gardening originated from her parents’, and she wants to pass that down to the future generation, she said. By educating people on the importance of organic food and sustainability she hopes they will be encouraged to grow their own vegetable garden, she said.

“My garden, while large and bountiful, is something that any person can accomplish on a smaller scale,” Moen said. “All it takes is a little bit of time educating yourself and applying the knowledge. Even if space is very limited you can grow a bountiful garden or beautiful eye-popping landscape with just a few pots. Many flowers, with access to sunlight, can even be grown inside your home.”