Price of Life

Diabetes has affected senior Joe Pastula for over ten years. His family has to adjust their financial planning to afford his survival, but can have trouble with insurance. Editor-in-Chief Bitsy Mammel | Managing Editor Hailey Surbrook | Staff Writer Amiya Zissler

Senior Joe Pastula enters the number of carbs he’s about to eat into his insulin pump. The pump will calculate the amount of insulin he needs, and costs $14,000. Photo: Hailey Surbrook



When senior Joe Pastula was seven years old, his grandfather would make him pancakes with maple syrup. Whenever Pastula would eat the sugary meal, he would become very sick with symptoms similar to the stomach flu. Pastula said that after a year and a half, they still didn’t know what was wrong.
Joe’s mother, Gloria Pastula, took him to the doctor and he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, which allowed them to understand why sugary meals caused Joe to become ill. Joe said that the drive to the doctor’s before he received the diagnosis was nerve wracking for him.
“I was scared because my mom was scared,” Joe said. “My mom is a nurse and she was guessing at that point that it could be diabetes, so she was really nervous on our way to the doctor because she had been thinking about it more and more, and that all the symptoms were pointing towards it.”
Type 1 Diabetes is a genetic disease that causes the pancreas to not regulate the body’s blood sugar level with hormones, including insulin. Artificial insulin is absolutely necessary for type 1 diabetics like Joe. Over the past ten years, the price in insulin has steadily increased, doubling from 2012 to 2016 according to a study released by Health Care Cost Institute.
Erin White, Manager for Diabetes Education at Mid-Michigan Health, said that this increase could be due to the new, different types of insulin being sold by pharmaceutical companies.
“Many of the companies that sell insulin have programs for people that they can apply to get free insulin from them, but they have to know how to apply and how to get that sent over to the company, so we do help people with that,” White said.
Joe said that because his mother is a nurse, their family has health insurance that is very helpful in covering some of the cost of his supplies. However, he said that they can have trouble working with the insurance companies.
“There are a lot of times when they have told us they won’t cover supplies and my mom has been on the phone with them for hours explaining that these supplies are life necessities,” Joe said.
Gloria said that without insurance, they could not afford managing Joe’s diabetes. She said that as a nurse, she’s seen the dangers of untreated or uncared for diabetes (cases can become so bad that diabetics can lose limbs) and knew that insurance would help lower Joe’s risk for future problems.
“If he didn’t have insurance, it would be about eight hundred dollars every three months for his insulin, and he needs it,” Gloria said. “He cannot be without it, it’s not a choice we get to make. We just have to find a way to buy it.”
White said that the healthcare system can also be difficult to understand. The center aids patients who need help navigating the system to get their necessary supplies.
“It can be a difficult thing to do if you don’t know who to call and what’s available,” White said.
Although insulin has increased in price, White said that the Diabetes Health Center has not seen more people looking for financial help.
“We actually have seen a reduction in the number of patients that have financial issues getting their supplies because over the years I believe the insurance companies are more aware of the need to cover these kinds of services for patients,” White said.
Joe said that although he’s between jobs right now, he enjoys having a job, saying he doesn’t like be a burden by asking for money. Gloria, though, said that she is proud of Joe’s commitment to staying healthy. He checks his blood sugar every day and carries his insulin pump and other supplies wherever he goes.
“I’m super proud of the way he manages his diabetes, he’s incredibly responsible with it,” Gloria said. “I’d like for him to not have to deal with it, but he deals with it in the most amazing and impressive way.”