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Lewiston woman testifies to Senate Aging Committee on personal toll of high drug prices

Lewiston resident Michelle Dehetre (r.), with Sen. Susan Collins

While driving with two of her sons in the car last week, Michelle Dehetre, a mother of five from Lewiston who has Type 1 diabetes, had a frightening experience that has become all too common for her: she began to feel very faint. Fortunately, no one was injured, and paramedics quickly arrived on the scene to take her to the emergency room.

Dehetre is one of the millions of Americans who struggle to purchase the medications they need to maintain their health. She struggles to pay for the insulin she needs, and she cannot afford a continuous glucose monitor and pump that would help manage her diabetes, resulting in life-threatening emergencies every month.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, invited Dehetre to testify at a hearing she held recently on efforts to improve the affordability and accessibility of prescription drugs.

The hearing featured five patients, including Dehetre, who shared their stories to underscore the real world effects that skyrocketing drug costs have on many Americans’ finances and quality of life. Senator Collins was also set to chair a hearing onthe following day that would explore policy solutions to lower the cost of drug prices.

“Ending up in the ER always scares me, not only because I know it’s a close call, but because on top of my medicine, I cannot afford another medical bill,” Dehetre told the committee. “The money I am spending on diabetes treatment is already too much. In addition to buying food for six people, paying the electric bill, and covering rent, the $300 per month for my diabetes medicine is a major financial strain. I cut back on spending whenever I can. I am always looking for ways to save money on food and gas, and sometimes fall short at the end of the month.”

Despite working full time and having insurance, Dehetre pays approximately $300 each month on insulin, syringes, and test strips. She is not able to afford the necessary supplies for a continuous glucose monitor and pump, which would cost $1,500 every three months. She has had to reduce spending on items such as groceries to be able to afford her insulin (Lantus and Humalog at about $50 to $75 per vial) and she continuously worries that the next diabetic episode could be fatal. “My dream is to see my 11-year-old son graduate from high school,” Dehetre told the committee,

In a recent letter addressed to Senator Collins, Dr. Irwin Brodsky, the Diabetes Medical Director at Maine Medical Partners Endocrinology and Diabetes Center, expressed his support for the Aging Committee’s efforts to make life-saving treatments more available to people with diabetes.

“I have patients who experience loss of consciousness from low blood sugar three or four times per week,” wrote Dr. Brodsky. “One such patient asks her children and coworkers to pour sugared liquids in her mouth in lieu of calling an ambulance or giving a rescue injection of the hormone glucagon.

“Clearly, the [Aging] Committee is addressing a very important problem by investigating ways to reduce the cost of diabetes medical therapies and therapeutic technologies,” he continued. “For this, I would like to express my gratitude. Lower prices would go a long way toward assuring appropriate and undisrupted treatment for people with diabetes.”

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