Linda Tominey, diabetes coordinator for the Forum Health Trumbull Memorial Hospital Diabetes Education Program, has noticed an increase in the amount of patients calling for financial help.
"I get calls almost weekly now," Tominey said.
Tominey and other local diabetes specialists attribute the change to the struggling economy, which has left some patients jobless and consequently without the insurance necessary to cover doctor visits and other medical costs, which can add up: In a formula based on 2006 Census data, The American Diabetes Association projected that collectively, Warren residents with diabetes would pay an estimated $44,432,491.96 annually.
Fewer physicians are accepting Medicaid, and visits to specialists can cost between $100 and $200, Tominey said.
While diabetes is manageable, without the necessary tools patients can develop chronic complications that can include strokes, heart disease and foot, kidney and eye problems. Those who can't afford care often cut back on medication. Because they can't afford physicians, many patients are treated elsewhere.
"Many times they'll end up in hospitals or in the emergency rooms," Tomi-ney said.
Free diabetes screenings
St. Joe's at the Mall, open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday at Eastwood Mall, Niles, is offering Diabetes Wellness Connection Day is June 15 and open to anyone. From 8:30 to 11 a.m. there is a free blood sugar screening (best with eight-hour fast), and from 9 to 11 a.m. there is free foot screening for diabetics and those at risk. Dr. Carmelita Reyes, DPM will be doing this monthly screening.
Dr. James Nichols, who operates a family practice in Howland, said patients who lack insurance end up with big bills that are primarily from hospital care.
"Just getting into the doctor becomes a problem," Nichols said.
While Nichols said that the situation isn't catastrophic yet, he has noticed that patients, losing their jobs and insurance, are scrambling more than in years past. While there is more affordable medicine available, patients may seek healthcare a bit less often, though Nichols said "they're doing OK."
Despite this, getting necessary care can become challenging for some.
Barbara Karlen, certified diabetes educator at St. Joseph Health Center in Warren, also noticed that patients don't have insurance or can't afford medical copays. Testing blood sugar levels can also prove costly.
Test strips cost approximately a dollar per strip, Karlen said. Patients who take oral medication must test themselves a couple times a day, while patients on insulin must take the tests more often. Sometimes, patients have to decide between putting food on the table and testing their blood sugar.
The Diabetes Cost Reduction Act, House Bill 81, was originally introduced in 1994 to alleviate this kind of problem.
In light of the economic crisis, individuals are again trying to pass the bill, Tominey said, though she admitted she was unsure whether their efforts would pay off.
"I'm not so sure if that's going to happen," she said.
Still, other practices are in place that can help to mitigate the cost of diabetic care.
Free monthly diabetes support groups are available at Trumbull Memorial, Tominey said, and some companies offer free test strips or oral pills. Free clinics are also available for the uninsured.
Nichols said discounted generic medicines helps patients as well.
"That makes a huge difference," Nichols said.
Patients shouldn't be afraid of the cost, Nichols added. Other resources, such as hospital financial services and voucher programs at pharmaceutical companies, are also available.
Additionally, Nichols points to preventative care as a way to keep costs at a minimum. Maintaining a healthy diet and sugar levels, and keeping up with medication and exercise can help patients avoid costly procedures and hospital stays.