Healthcare is Sick

Is there a cure?

A personal case for healthcare reform

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listen to portions of my interview with Sherry here:

Sherry Fortin sat against a mailbox outside Pinocchio’s in downtown Northampton, knitting a winter hat.  On the sidewalk lay her finished products- several hats and scarves, which cost $20, mittens, which cost $15, and bracelets, a bargain at only $1.

A colorful sign advertised her wares: “I have diabetes and need medication.  $1 donation for a bracelet. I can knit anything you want, and will take orders.”

Sherry, 45, has had diabetes for 18 years.  For some of this time she took insulin and prescription pills to manage her blood sugar, as diabetic coma and death, along with minor symptoms, such as dizziness, nausea and extreme sweating, can result from blood sugar that is either too low or too high.

Sherry has not taken insulin or pills since July though, as these symptoms have subsided considerably, which made the medication, at a price of $30 a month through Mass Health, a state program, seem more like a luxury than a necessity.

For someone with a steady income this would obviously not be the case, but Sherry has been out of work for over a year.  On good days she makes about $20 selling her knitted products, enough to buy food and service her addictions to soda and cigarettes.

Although the short term symptoms of diabetes have not manifested themselves in months, Sherry cannot escape the long term health consequences that result from not taking insulin regularly, namely Diabetic neuropathy, where the body does not supply enough blood to nerves in the hands and feet, causing nerve cells to die.

“My feet hurt really bad; they have numb feeling of being asleep, but still ache all the time,” Sherry said.  “They have been threatening to cut my feet off for a while, but I won’t let them.”

Recently her pinkie has also started to feel numb, which has made Sherry especially apprehensive.

“If anything happens to my hands I would really be in trouble,” she said.  “My hands are how I make my living.”

Neuropathy is caused by blood sugar levels that are either too high or too low for long periods of time, evidence that Sherry has had inadequate access to medication over her 18 years with diabetes.

This failure to take regular medication may result in amputation, which epitomizes what is wrong with America’s health care system, according to Gloria DiFulvio, a Professor in UMass- Amherst’s Public Health Department.

DiFulvio said if Sherry had managed her diabetes correctly since she was first diagnosed, which would have included stopping smoking, a healthy diet and regular physical exercise, along with medication as needed, “it would be way cheaper than amputating her leg, if that is what it comes to.”

It would be cheaper to insure everyone adequately rather than underinsuring some, and then treating them when they show up at the emergency room as a result of the underinsurance.

For example, diabetes costs more than $192 million in medical expenses annually, which is significant considering 80 percent of type 2 diabetes, by far the more common version, is preventable through better diet, exercise and taking adequate levels of medicine.





Written by Chris Russell

September 27, 2009 at 4:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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