It's Not Just Insulin: Diabetes Patients Struggle To Get Crucial Supplies

Type 1 diabetes can be well managed with insulin if blood sugar is consistently monitored. But insurance rules can make it hard for patients to get the medical supplies their doctors say they need.
Ric Peralta and his wife Lisa are both able to check Ric's blood sugar levels at any time, using the Dexcom app and an arm patch that measures the levels and sends the information wirelessly. Source: Allison Zaucha for NPR

In the first three months after getting his Dexcom continuous glucose monitor, Ric Peralta managed to reduce his average blood sugar level by three percentage points.

"It took me from not-very-well-managed blood sugar to something that was incredibly well managed," says Peralta, a 46-year-old optician in Whittier, Calif., who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2008.

Peralta was so enthused that he became a "Dexcom Warrior," a sort of grassroots spokesman for the product. It became hard to imagine life without his new monitor, a device that lets him keep track the trends in his blood sugar 24 hours a day on his smart phone. And yet, he's spent weeks at a time without the device over the past year because of problems with insurance restrictions. Physician groups and patients consider those rules overly burdensome, but insurance groups defend them as necessary.

Diabetes and have started to focus attention, leading to , and . But insulin isn't the only thing people with Type 1 diabetes are struggling to get. Managing the condition requires other essential, often life-saving medical supplies. And patients frequently face hurdles in getting access to those supplies — hurdles put in place by insurance companies.

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