Getting caught up in America’s absurd health care system

I got a hurried voicemail from my pharmacist in Wisconsin the day before Thanksgiving letting me know my insurance was refusing to cover my insulin.

I had enough of the hormone that keeps me alive to last 17 days.

In my 10 years living with Type 1 diabetes, I’ve never really struggled to access insulin. But in my job reporting on the people left behind by our country’s absurdly complex health care system, I’ve written about how insulin’s steep cost leads to deadly rationing and about patients protesting to bring those prices down.

For the most part, though, I’ve been spared from the problems I cover. Maybe that’s why I waited over a week to call my new pharmacy in St. Louis, where I recently moved for this job with KHN.

Bram Sable-Smith draws insulin into a syringe for an injection.

I’d been waiting since September for an appointment with an endocrinologist in St. Louis; the doctor’s office couldn’t get me in until Dec. 23 and wouldn’t handle my prescriptions before then. When I finally called a pharmacy to sort this out, a pharmacist in St. Louis said my new employer-provided insurance wouldn’t cover insulin without something called a prior authorization. I’ve written about these, too. They’re essentially requirements that a physician get approval from an insurance company before prescribing a treatment.

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