Almost 1,000,000 federal employees are going without pay due to the current partial government shutdown, and that means big problems for employees with medical conditions like diabetes. Without a steady paycheck, some employees are forced to ration their medications because they can’t afford the copay for more expensive prescriptions like insulin.
Federal employee spotlight
This is especially true for Mallory Lorge who works for the Department of the Interior in River Falls, Wisconsin. She has two vials of insulin in her refrigerator, but is rationing her supply (taking less than her recommended dose) in order to make it stretch.
With no sight of the government shutdown in sight, she can’t afford the $300 copay for another vial of this life-sustaining drug. Lorge has taken to sorting through her belongings and looking for something to sell in order to purchase another vial.
“It’s like being held hostage,” Lorge said. “I’ve been a federal employee for six years, and I love it. I don’t get paid much, but I love working for the American people. That the government has put us in this position is like a punch in the gut.”
Deadly consequences of rationing insulin
Rationing insulin is a dangerous practice. Not taking enough insulin can lead to damage to the eyes, lungs, kidneys, and heart, and can lead to heart attack and stroke. If those with type 1 are without insulin for a long time, they can develop diabetic ketoacidosis, when the blood becomes acidic, the cells dehydrate, and the body stops functioning. This can lead to coma and even death.
Soaring cost of insulin
Insulin prices tripled between 2002 and 2013, and then doubled within the following five years. The list price for a single vial of insulin is now $300, and most people with type 1 diabetes use several vials in a single month. Health insurance and drug discounts help bring down the price some, but not all American have insurance, which leaves them paying high out-of-pocket costs for a drug they can’t live without.
How the government shutdown works
During this particular government shutdown, 400,000 federal employees are expected to work without pay and another 350,000 employees will be furloughed, or granted an involuntary leave of absence without pay. Furloughed employees will still have jobs when the shutdown ends and will retain their benefits in the meantime. Agencies expected to work without pay include the Secret Service, Border Patrol, and airport security officers (TSA).