Diabetes in Hard Times

For three years now, people have been losing their homes and their jobs because of the 2008 economic “collapse” and ongoing hard times. How is that affecting diabetes?

In 2009, the Associated Press reported that “Diabetics are increasingly risking life and limb by cutting back on — or even going without — doctor visits, insulin, medicines and blood-sugar testing as they lose income and health insurance in the recession.”


According the same news story, Dr. Steven Edelman, founder of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, “has seen a 30 percent surge the past six months in patients seeking free diabetes medicines and supplies, which the clinic has to ration. Many had been solidly middle class, but the recession took their jobs, insurance and even some homes.”

Reporting on a Harvard study, diabetes blogger Amy Stockwell Mercer reported last year that because of the recession, “Nearly two in five [people with diabetes] (39 percent) say that tough times have made their health worse,” and “about a third (34 percent) say that costs related to their disease have drained their savings accounts.”

Economic struggles affect far more than medical care, though. How do you focus on your health when you’re losing your home or your job, or loved ones are struggling to get by? Money issues can affect our mental state and even our diets.

ScienceDaily reported in 2010 that “The economic recession [has increased the] incidence of food insecurity… For diseases like diabetes, in which nutrition and menu planning play a key role in treatment, food insecurity can be devastating.”

Concerns like these can bring down your whole view of life. Mercer says she stopped using her insulin pump to save money and cut down on testing because insurance cut the number of strips they’ll pay for. “It’s flat out depressing and frustrating,” she says, “and I wish I could see a silver lining on the horizon but I just don’t.”

As Mercer’s comments show, financial issues are adding major stress to life with diabetes, and stress makes diabetes worse. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “For every 100 additional foreclosures in a given zip code, there was an 8.1% increase in newly diagnosed diabetes among people aged 20–49 years… There was also a 7.2% increase in ER visits for hypertension, and a 12% increase in visits and admits for anxiety and other psychosocial problems for every 100 foreclosures… Not surprisingly, there were racial disparities, with African-Americans and Hispanics being harder hit health-wise than whites.”

Unemployment can damage health even more than foreclosure. Writing on the blog Lemonade Life, guest blogger Susan wrote, “What do I pay for first… food or test strips? What about insulin? What about my phone, in case I need to call for help? What about a place to live? This circle of thoughts plagues me most days and sometimes it gets so overwhelming…”

“Do you know anywhere that will hire a 25 year old college grad who has three Bachelor degrees?” she asks. “Because I have not [found one]. I have applied everywhere from department stores to fast food restaurants to government agencies. Either I have ‘too much experience’ or I don’t have enough.”

So how do you cope with loss of income, job, home? I don’t have any great answers, but I know it’s important to get as much help from others as you can — family, friends, other people with diabetes. People can give emotional support and practical help. They let you know you’re not alone. Having other people on your side reduce your stress, even if they can’t help you find a place to live or a job. And maybe they can help with that, too.

I don’t know if it helps to get angry with the corporate bankers and their government helpers who are doing this to us. I think feeling you are fighting back may reduce your feelings of stress and helplessness. But I know it’s also important to accept what happens and move on. Blaming others rarely helps us cope. Both acceptance and fighting back are hard.

In spite of this bleak picture, finding ways to pay for diabetes care, meds, and supplies is often possible. When I wrote about “Paying for Diabetes” a few weeks ago, readers had many good suggestions. Perhaps we have some ideas for paying bills, dealing with foreclosures, and finding jobs, too?

  • jim snell


    Special thanks for a thoughful and compassionate column on this whole matter.

    Today we are seeing the world struggle to get its economies under control.

    This idiocy of keeping toxic debt afloat and trying to pay of the counter parties of the CDO’s/CDS instead of burning the crap in a barrell is bankrupting us all.

    I hope this mess stabalizes soon before all of our combined wealth is finished off.

    For diabetics, this sets loose a deeper scourage and accompanying heartache, worse health and death. Arrest the bankers right now.

    Thank you and best wishes

  • calgarydiabetic

    One way to cope would be to go back to 6 shots per day of NPH instead of 2 shots/day of lantus.

  • still too fat

    I know that if I lost my job, there would be no way I could afford my meds.

    We were so close to universal health care, but threw it away on a more expensive, less effective giveaway for the insurance companies.

  • laurina

    hi, I have had my insulin dependent diabetic for 31 years
    and had a fulltime job w/ insurance!!for 24 years.
    Well My job was a nursing home which closed
    11-11-11 and now I lost my job&Insurance as
    the insurance package through Cobra Is Way TOO
    Expensive So Now What do I do?
    Anybody have any Good Resources or HELP!!!
    Where I can Get my insulin????
    Please Help my insurance runs out as of november 30

  • David Spero RN

    Hi, Laurina. You are definitely in the 99%. There are a number of options you can find online for less expensive insulin. Some might require changing your prescription to a cheaper type, or buying from Canada, but there are other possibilities. You might call Wal-Mart or Costco; they’re way cheaper. Ask your doctor, but I hope some of our readers can help you more.

  • laurina

    o.k. will do
    any other suggestions will be of great help
    I just got my insulin filled but that will only last another month.So thanks.

  • Beth

    A few years ago, Connie Kleinbeck had a wonderful article about how to cope with diabetes during hard times in the old newsletter(now defunct) Voice of the Diabetic. Although a few things might be out of date, most of her advice is still good. Here is a link:

    BTW, Connie is a diabetes educator in Kansas City who gives superb care through a program “of last resort” for people with. O health insurance and no money. She is very resourceful in finding resources for people who really need her help.

  • R. Lawrence

    Can you try to get a 90 day mail order prescription filled. I don’t see this as any fraudulant behavior as you are currently still insured. Certainly only a temporary fix though. Best of luck.

    If you are currently using pens, I’ve discovered that you can usually pull another 10 u out of the pen with a syringe once the calibrated units are used.

  • John_C

    David.. what brings tears to an old guy’s eyes?
    Reading your Blog!

    So sad — it doesn’t need to be this way you know.
    Did I hear somebody mention the word greed? How about fairness too… maybe humanity..

  • David Spero RN

    The ADA has some good help for finding health insurance:

    Some online companies specialize in insurance for people with diabetes. One is Diabetic Health Insurance at http://www.diabetic-health-insurance.org