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Underground insulin exchanges emerge as workers lose jobs amid pandemic, insurance co-pays fall short

Underground insulin exchanges emerge as workers lose jobs amid pandemic, insurance co-pays fall short

DENVER — D.j. Mattern had her Type 1 diabetes under control until COVID-19’s economic upheaval cost her husband his hotel maintenance job and their health coverage. The 42-year-old Denver woman suddenly faced insulin’s exorbitant list price — anywhere from $125 to $450 per vial — just as their household income shrank.

She scrounged extra insulin from friends, and her doctor gave her a couple of samples. But, as she rationed her supplies, her blood sugar rose so high that her glucose monitor couldn’t even register a number. In June, she was hospitalized.

“My blood was too acidic. My system was shutting down. My digestive tract was paralyzed,” Mattern said, after three weeks in the hospital. “I was almost near death.”

So she turned to a growing underground network of people with diabetes who share extra insulin when they have it, free of charge. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, many thought, after Colorado last year became the first of 12 states — including Illinois — to put a cap on the co-payments that some insurers can charge consumers for insulin.

But, as the coronavirus pandemic has caused people to lose their jobs and health insurance, demand for insulin sharing has skyrocketed. Many who once had good insurance are now realizing the $100 cap for a 30-day supply is just a partial solution, applying only to state-regulated health plans.

It does nothing for the majority of people with employer-sponsored plans or those without insurance coverage. According to the Colorado chapter of Type 1 International, an insulin access advocacy group, only 3% of patients with Type 1 diabetes under 65 could benefit from the cap.

Such laws, often backed by pharmaceutical companies, give the impression things are improving, said Colorado chapter leader Martha Bierut. “But the reality is we have a

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Workers With Health Insurance Face Rising Out-of-Pocket Costs

Workers With Health Insurance Face Rising Out-of-Pocket Costs

The high cost of health care is persisting during the pandemic, even for people lucky enough to still have job-based insurance.

The average annual cost of a health plan covering a family rose to $21,342 in 2020, according to the latest survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks employer-based coverage. Workers paid about a quarter of the total premiums, or $5,588, on average, with their employers picking up the rest of the cost.

An analysis of the results was published Thursday online in Heath Affairs, an academic journal. While premiums rose only slightly from the 2019 survey, the increase in premiums and deductibles together over the last decade has far outpaced both inflation and the growth in workers’ earnings. Since 2010, premiums have climbed 55 percent, more than double the rise in wages or inflation, according to the foundation’s analysis.

About 157 million Americans had coverage from their employer before the pandemic, but millions have lost their insurance along with their jobs over the past several months. Many experts expect more people to lose coverage in the coming months as companies lay off workers or drop their health benefits.

“Nothing changed much, but then everything changed,” said Gary Claxton, a senior vice president at the foundation. The survey was conducted from January through July of this year, making it hard for the researchers to see how the changed circumstances will affect costs and employers’ willingness to pay for coverage.

“Things may look different moving forward as employers grapple with the economic and health upheaval sparked by the pandemic,” Drew Altman, the foundation’s chief executive, said a statement.

The survey also underscored how much workers with health insurance still have to spend out of pocket for their care. In addition to paying for their share of premiums,

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840,000 more workers filed for unemployment insurance last week

840,000 more workers filed for unemployment insurance last week

Another 840,000 Americans sought unemployment insurance last week, according to the latest report Thursday from the U.S. Department of Labor.



a person standing in front of a store: A woman checks her cell phone as she walks past a store closing sign in the Park Slope section of N.Y, Oct. 5, 2020.


© Erik Pendzich/REX via Shutterstock
A woman checks her cell phone as she walks past a store closing sign in the Park Slope section of N.Y, Oct. 5, 2020.

This week’s claims do not include the most up-to-date data from California, which has temporarily stopped accepting new jobless claims in order to work through a backlog and implement fraud prevention technology, the Labor Department said. Instead, the figure from California will reflect the level reported during the week prior to the pause in new applications.

MORE: Unemployment rate slips to 7.9% in last jobs report before election

Still, the initial claims data reflect a labor market still suffering some six months into the coronavirus pandemic. This is the 29th straight week of weekly unemployment claims coming in above the pre-pandemic record set in 1982.



a person standing in front of a store: A woman checks her cell phone as she walks past a store closing sign in the Park Slope section of N.Y, Oct. 5, 2020.


© Erik Pendzich/REX via Shutterstock
A woman checks her cell phone as she walks past a store closing sign in the Park Slope section of N.Y, Oct. 5, 2020.

While the number of new claims has fallen some since peaking in late March, they have stagnated at unprecedented levels not seen before the COVID-19 crisis. The average for the past four weeks was 857,000 new claims a week, according to the DOL.

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Moreover, the total number of people claiming unemployment benefits through all programs was 25.5 million as of the week ending Sept. 19, the DOL also said Thursday. That figure was 1.4 million for the comparable week in 2019.

The states that saw the largest increase in new jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 26 were Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey, according to Thursday’s report. Meanwhile, the states with the largest decreases

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‘I fell for what Trump was saying’: Workers sound off on virus, uncertainty about economic aid

‘I fell for what Trump was saying’: Workers sound off on virus, uncertainty about economic aid

That’s on top of the fact that layoffs continue to pummel the job market, forgivable loans for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program have run out, and more than 20 million Americans are no longer receiving enhanced unemployment benefits.

It’s a perfect storm hitting everyday workers who are trying to keep their lives afloat.

Truck driver Derrick Beauvais used to deliver paper products to 40 Boston-area restaurants every day, but since the pandemic hit, he’s lucky if he has half that. His paychecks are down by half, as well. An extra $200 a week in unemployment benefits has helped, and he is counting on another stimulus package to get by.

“My wife doesn’t work because I always made enough money where she could stay home and take care of our son,” he said, adding that he recently decided to get an emergency credit card because he doesn’t have any savings.

He said he looks back on the $1,200 stimulus check and $600 enhanced unemployment benefits of earlier in the year, wishing he would have planned ahead, maybe not buying his 8-year-old son extra back-to-school clothes.

“I didn’t exactly save like I probably should have,” he said. “I fell for what Trump was saying . . . ‘When the weather gets nicer the virus is going to go away’. . . and here we are, almost in November.”

May, a housekeeper at the still-closed Sheraton Boston Hotel who asked that her last name not be used, has been using her unemployment checks to pay her mortgage and raise her 7-year-old daughter in Quincy. But with no reopening date in sight, and jobless benefits coming to an end, she doesn’t know what she’s going to do.

“I can’t imagine this,” said May, who is from China and has been in the

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