Pay your rent or take your insulin? Ten years ago, this wasn’t a predicament for most people with diabetes, but because the cost of insulin more than tripled between 2002 and 2013, it’s a question many now face each month.

Sandra Garcia with Texas A&M Healthy South Texas says she’s seen insulin prices as high as $1,000 per month for just one diabetes patient. In Corpus Christi, where Garcia works, this is well over the average $850 monthly rent.

But deciding between rent and your medication does not have to be a choice. Thanks to Healthy South Texas’ Medication Assistance Program, many people can easily afford their prescription medications that treat and control not only diabetes, but also cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions and most other chronic diseases. Some can even get them for free.

“People have come to us after going months without their insulin,” said Garcia, who is the Medication Assistance Program coordinator. “They are extremely lucky to have not been hospitalized, or worse, for going without.”

Insulin was the third most expensive drug in 2015, accounting for about $9.2 billion in expenditures (a 16.3 percent increase from 2014). A naturally occurring hormone produced by the pancreas, insulin helps our bodies regulate our blood sugar. Many people with diabetes are prescribed injectable or inhalable insulin, either because their bodies do not produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or do not use insulin properly (type 2 diabetes). The amount of insulin people with diabetes need depends on several factors, including the type of diabetes they have, glucose levels, how much their blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day and lifestyle.

The majority of those assisted by the Medication Assistance Program do not have insurance and/or meet federal poverty guidelines. But some who do have health benefits but are not adequately covered may also qualify for assistance. For these people, some prescriptions may be covered by their insurance while others are not, or they might have high out-of-pocket expenses. Unfortunately, many people don’t discover they are underinsured until an emergency occurs or they are faced with a serious illness, like diabetes, that requires prescriptions that are not covered by their insurance. But the Medication Assistance Program can help provide affordable medications to those who could not afford them otherwise.

The program’s staff is able to lower their clients’ prescription costs by assisting them with filling out lengthy and often complex applications that offer a limited supply of free or nearly free medications through pharmaceutical companies’ patient assistance programs. They also connect clients with a number of other services available through retail pharmacies and indigent programs, helping them find affordable access to the prescription medications they need.

“Some clients have up to 15 different medications and have to alternate them on a monthly basis because they can’t afford to pay for all of them at once,” said Eslanda Trevino, community health worker for the Medication Assistance Program, “but we are able to find some of their medications at no cost to them.”

The program currently has locations in Corpus Christi, Falfurrias, Kingsville, Victoria and Weslaco, Texas. Face-to-face meetings are preferred, but the process to obtain assistance can be completed through the mail. To schedule an appointment at any of the program’s locations, call 1-866-524-1408.

“Deciding between your health and your home does not have to be an issue,” said Starr Flores, regional director of Healthy South Texas. “Our knowledgeable and friendly community health workers are here to help. By ensuring they have the medications they need, Healthy South Texas is working toward improved health and well-being of the most at-risk South Texas residents. And that’s an improvement we can all enjoy for years to come.”

— Lindsey Hendrix

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