Opinion

From insulin to abortion, Kansas political leaders put profits ahead of people

July 6, 2022 3:33 am

Type 1 diabetics require insulin to live. The medication has surged in price, making it frequently unaffordable for those without insurance or with high-deductible plans. (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Type 1 diabetes was on my mind this long weekend.

A story from States Newsroom’s national bureau explained how U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire have united for a bill capping insulin costs. Liz Hamor wrote a moving column for the Reflector about a couple facing a kidney and pancreas transplant after one member’s long struggle with the illness.

Personally, I began treatment with a new insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor over the last few days. That’s right, besides being an opinion editor, I’m also a Type 1 diabetic of 35 years and counting.

These stories and my own experiences — not to mention the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade — gave me much to consider. We put immediate profit and corporate power ahead of public health. We prize freedom for some but not for others.

In short, our country does an absolutely terrible job of thinking long term.

Take the simple matter of insulin.

Type 1 diabetics need it to live. It has become absurdly expensive. Pharmaceutical companies blame insurance industry middlemen, who in turn blame pharmaceutical companies. Regardless, those without insurance or with skimpy health plans can bankrupt themselves buying medication they need to literally stay breathing.

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How can a civilized society allow this? Hamor’s column shows a real-world example in the story of Dee Martinez.

“None of Dee’s jobs ever offered insurance, and the prohibitive out-of-pocket cost of insulin meant she often tried to stretch it to last,” Hamor writes. “She admits this likely led to some of the complications she later experienced.”

Martinez is now on disability and scheduled to receive a kidney–pancreas transplant. The procedure and all of the preparations needed to make it happen will take serious resources, both public and private. Why wouldn’t our state or country make diabetes care free or affordable at the beginning to avoid such an outcome? Andy Obermueller, my college opinion editor, made much the same case for Kansas Reflector readers back in February.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, not one caused by “lifestyle choices” (a judgmental misnomer often tied to poverty, but that’s another column). Successful treatment depends on devoted self-management and a combination of medication and technology. The much-lauded free market of conservatives and libertarians simply does not work for people with this type of chronic illness.

The pursuit of short-term profit outweighs keeping people healthy.

This array of supplies could be used by a person with Type 1 diabetes to manage his or her condition. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

I’m lucky, relatively speaking. I was trained well early on, have enjoyed consistent access to quality insurance and avoided complications. But as my new insulin pump reminded me this weekend, I’m still at the mercy of my treatment.

Over the last couple of decades, I’ve frequently wondered what my life would be like without diabetes. At several points I knew inspirational young people who started businesses or talked about heading off to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

I could never join them. I needed the assurance of good health insurance.

Imagine how much both Kansas and the United States have lost because they can’t assure health coverage for those interested in innovating. Imagine how many breakthroughs, how much creativity, have been quashed because people simply struggle to stay alive. You would never know, unless you watch me fiddle with my pump, that I have a chronic illness. How many people around you have similar stories but simply don’t share them?

This brings us, in a roundabout way, to abortion. You know a woman who has received an abortion. Nearly one in four do. She may have chosen not to tell you, but that doesn’t mean the procedure didn’t happen.

Abortions are basic health care that allow women to thrive and pursue their dreams of education, career and — yes — family. Yet men don’t understand the ubiquity or necessity. Repeated stories since the Dobbs decision came down showed states woefully unprepared to deal with questions of ectopic pregnancies, rape or incest, or even the pregnancy of a 10-year-old girl.

Abortions are basic health care that allow women to thrive and pursue their dreams of education, career and – yes – family. Yet men don’t understand the ubiquity or necessity. Repeated stories since the Dobbs decision came down showed states woefully unprepared to deal with questions of ectopic pregnancies, rape or incest, or even the pregnancy of a 10-year-old girl.

– Clay Wirestone

No, conservatives judges wanted the rush of adrenalin that they scored a win over liberals. They didn’t care about the long-term consequences for women and families.

Exactly the same has happened in Kansas. The same politicians lauding the high court’s decision have repeatedly blocked Medicaid expansion. They have made it harder for families to feed themselves. They have refused to lower barriers for public assistance. Above all, they constantly criticize the public education system and those who work within it, working overtime to weaken the cornerstone of our state’s prosperity.

Strengthening families? They don’t care.

Preserving life or health? They don’t care.

Long-term consequences? They don’t care.

They prize ideology and the profits of their corporate donors. Let’s face it: If abortion made Koch Industries billions of dollars a year, legislative leaders would be racing to protect it in a special session today. They would be delighted to do so.

I’m happy and heartened to see potential action in the U.S. Senate on insulin prices, along with an incredible outcome for Dee Martinez. I’m even happy to have this new high-tech insulin pump (it includes Bluetooth and a color screen). Yet we could do so much more.

If you claim to be pro-life, support affordable insulin for diabetics. If you claim to be pro-life, support affordable insurance coverage for those with chronic illness. If you claim to be pro-life, put the health and wellness of your state ahead of corporations that have done nothing but pollute our planet and warp our nation’s politics.

It’s not just about Type 1 diabetics. It’s about everything we claim to value.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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