Amid rising drug costs nationally, one state senator takes on diabetes in Nevada

Before she was diagnosed with diabetes six years ago, Soila Solano was an assistant manager at an alarm system installation company.

That was before the thousands of dollars of hospital bills, before she had to file bankruptcy, before she got on disability, before she was on 24/7 oxygen and before the depression kicked in because she couldn’t work. Between her diabetes, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and chronic asthma, the 44-year-old says she sometimes has to debate which medications to take — to help her breathe or to help balance her blood sugar.

Solano’s life is filled with statistics: more than $10,000 in medical bills, an $800 a month disability check, $100 a month for her insulin on Medicare (it was $400 a month on her husband’s insurance), $25 a month for test strips, $15 for lancets, $10 for alcohol, and $33 a month to rent her two oxygen machines, the one she keeps at home and the one she carries with her, as she did on a recent trip from Las Vegas to Carson City for “Diabetes Day” at the Legislature. She traveled to testify in support of a bill that would control the prices of certain diabetes drugs.

“If this bill is passed, it helps with me having a little bit of extra money so I can buy myself some shoes, buy some healthier food for me to eat, it means a lot,” Solano said. “Even if it’s $5, $10, $15 a month, I can save. It’s something.”

Solano isn’t alone.

Jeannie Sedich, a 76-year-old Las Vegas resident, has four children with diabetes. Her daughter, Mary, called doctors and pharmaceutical companies asking for samples of medication when she couldn’t afford to pay $2,108 a month for insulin, Seditch said. Mary died last year after a massive stroke that had left her with 50 percent brain damage, completely paralyzed on her right side, unable to swallow, catheterized and sent home from the hospital for six months until her heart gave out.

Single mother Keyonna Lawrence says she debates whether to pay her electricity bill, buy special food or purchase her diabetes medicine. Sometimes she only uses half of her medicine to make it stretch. Her biggest fear is that her 11-year-old son will wake up one morning and call for her but “mom is cold as ice.”

“These are the things we need to stay alive,” Lawrence said. “If I don’t get it my end result is ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

It’s people like Solano, Sedich and Lawrence who Democratic Sen. Yvanna Cancela aims to help through a bill she introduced last monthSB265 seeks to improve access to essential diabetes drugs by implementing price controls, a measure the pharmaceutical industry has long opposed. Cancela’s goal with the legislation is stabilize the rapidly rising costs of diabetes drugs, which have risen by more than 450 percent over inflation, to help the 12 percent of Nevadans who are diabetic and the 38 percent who are pre-diabetic.

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