Twenty-two-year-old Hattie Saltzman looks like a respectable, law-abiding citizen. But she’s been forced to break the law to survive, and she makes no apologies about it. Hattie has type 1 diabetes, and it’s forced her to learn how to live dangerously. So dangerously, in fact, that she was sent to emergency room.
It started in 2017, when Hattie’s insulin co-pay rose to $550 a month, though she’s quick to tell KCTV News that she knows people who have to pay much more than that. “I know some people who have worse insurance coverage than I did. They might be spending $900. We have to pay it or we die,” she said.
The $550 was an unsustainable financial burden. She borrowed insulin from her father, who also has diabetes. What she did is medicare fraud, and Hattie knows it. “I broke the law,” she said, “I hope no one comes knocking on my door.”
Her doctor also helped Hattie survive by giving her dozens of sample insulin shots. Hattie found a way to break open the shots and insert the insulin into her pump. “You do what you have to do,” she said.
But she pushed too far. She also started rationing her insulin so that she was giving herself just enough to stay alive. But she rationed too much, and the insulin in her pump expired. Her blood sugar hit 650, and she had to go to the emergency room. “It was one of the worst days of my life. I hope I never go through that again,” she said.
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Relief finally came for Hattie, but it wasn’t in the way she would have chosen. A young woman in her family’s church passed away from complications of cystic fibrosis. The woman also had diabetes, and the grieving family donated the unused insulin to Hattie. “So, I got five bottles of insulin, which would last me more than through the end of the year. I cannot describe how it feels to pick up an insulin vial that has somebody else’s name on it when you know that person is no longer around,” she said.
In 2018, Hattie got on a new insurance plan. She’ll now pay just $25 a month for her insulin.
But not all stories like Hattie’s have a happy ending. In 2017, twenty-six-year-old Alec passed away from diabetic ketoacidosis less than a month after he aged out of his parents’ health insurance plan. He would have had to spend $2,000 a month to take all his prescribed insulin, so instead he rationed it, and lost his life. His heartbroken parents are now advocating for lower insulin prices.
Hattie wants to help others who are struggling. Now that she’s on an affordable health insurance plan, she plans to donate any extra insulin she has to other diabetics. She says that people in the diabetes community help each other out as much as possible, but it’s not enough.
“There are Facebook pages, there are GoFundMe’s, everybody is doing what they can to try and help this community but it’s not sustainable, it’s not enough. There’s no way that we can collect enough insulin to save everybody that can’t afford it. This is just how it is and it needs to be changed,” she said.
People with diabetes are demanding answers. Insulin is hardly a ground-breaking drug; it’s been around for nearly 100 years. When KCTV News reached out to Elli Lilly, a large pharmaceutical company, for answers, a spokesperson pointed to high-deductible health plans and mentioned their solution center designed to help people struggling to pay for insulin find solutions.
Regardless, Hattie Saltzman is planning to protest outside Elli Lilly headquarters. She won’t be alone. Hattie has already had to break the law and risk her life just to stay alive. She, and millions like her, deserve answers.