Posts Tagged ‘diabetes’

What Price Life?

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Part One

“Insulin is my gift to mankind” – Frederick Banting

A Quick Quiz

Question 1: Name a chronic disease requiring medication, which, if not taken every day, guarantees death within two weeks.
Answer: Type 1 Diabetes.

Question 2: Name the medication.
Answer: Insulin.

Question 3: What is the monthly cost of insulin for a Type 1 diabetic?
Answer: As we shall see, that depends.

Question 4: If Type 1 diabetics cannot afford the cost of insulin, without which they will surely die, what should they do?
Answer: This is happening at this moment, and people are dying.  In these two blog posts we’ll examine why and what can be done about it. But we need to first posit some truths about diabetes, and then describe how, in 1922, Canadian doctor Frederick Banting made the ground-breaking discovery that allowed Type 1 diabetics, for the first time in history, to live.

Ten Fast Facts

  1. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows the body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food we eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin helps keeps blood sugar levels from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Type 1 diabetics, T1Ds, can no longer produce insulin. They have none of it. Although older adults can also contract Type 1 diabetes, it usually strikes children and young adults. Without insulin, whether old or young, they die.
  2. There are about 1.3 million T1Ds in the U.S. They comprise one half of one percent of the population. Currently, there is no cure for any of them. Without insulin, they will die.
  3. There are about 29 million Type 2 diabetics. T2Ds still make some insulin. In most, lifestyle changes will improve their health, sometimes to the point where they will no longer require insulin or any other medical prescriptions. Some will become insulin-dependent, and without it, they face life-changing complications.
  4. Diabetic Retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness.
  5. Diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic amputation.
  6. Diabetes is a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.
  7. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.
  8. Complications from diabetes sometimes cause workplace injuries and often exacerbate the severity and length of recovery.
  9. In 2017, the nation’s total direct medical costs due to diabetes were $237 billion. Average medical expenses for diabetics were 2.3 times higher than for non-diabetics. The extent to which diabetes added to workers’ compensation medical costs is unknown.
  10. Based on information found on death certificates, diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States in 2015, with 79,535 death certificates listing it as the underlying cause of death, and 252,806 listing diabetes as an underlying or contributing cause of death. However, diabetes is underreported as a cause of death; studies have found that only about 35% to 40% of people with diabetes who died had diabetes listed anywhere on the death certificate and only 10% to 15% had it listed as the underlying cause of death. An example of best practice would be, “Death caused by infection contracted from hemodialysis due to kidney failure, a complication of the patient’s diabetes.”

Banting and Insulin

Image result for photo of frederick banting

Frederick Banting is perhaps Canada’s greatest hero. Born in 1891, he graduated medical school with a surgical degree in 1915 and found himself in a French trench by the end of 1917. In December of that year, he was wounded during the Battle of Cambrai, the first great tank battle in history. He remained on the battlefield for 16 hours tending to other wounded soldiers until he had to be ordered to the rear to have his own wounds treated. For this action he won the British Military Cross, akin to America’s Silver Star. After returning to Canada, he continued his studies and, in 1920, secured a part time teaching post at Western Ontario University. While there, he began studying insulin Why? Serendipity. Someone had asked him to give a talk on the workings of the pancreas.

Banting became interested – and then obsessed – with trying to come up with a way to get insulin to people who couldn’t make any of their own. In November 1921, he hit on the idea of extracting insulin from fetal pancreases of cows and pigs. He discussed the approach with J. R. R. MacLeod, Professor of Physiology at the University of Toronto. MacLeod thought Banting’s idea was doomed to failure, but he allowed him to use his lab facilities while he was on a golfing holiday in Scotland. He also loaned him two assistants, Dr. Charles Best and biochemist James Collip. Collip devised a method to purify the insulin Banting and Best obtained from the fetal pancreases.

To MacLeod’s surprise, Banting’s procedure worked, and in 1922 Banting and Best successfully treated the daughter of US Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes.

In 1923, one year later, Banting, at the age of 32, won the Nobel Prize, which, to his disgust, he had to share with MacLeod. To this day, Frederick Banting is the youngest person ever to win the Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

His discovery could have made Banting mind-numbingly rich, but he would have none of that. Along with Best and Collip, Banting patented his method and then the three of them sold the patent to the University of Toronto for the princely sum of $3.00. When asked why he didn’t cash in on his discovery, Banting said, “Insulin is my gift to mankind.” With Banting’s blessing, the University licensed insulin’s manufacturing to drug companies, royalty free. If drug companies didn’t have to pay royalties, Banting thought they would keep the price of insulin low.

And they did. For decades.

But patents expire, and capitalism being what it is, people get greedy, and greed is why we have no generic, low-cost insulin today and why, over the past 20 years, insulin prices have risen anywhere from 800% to 1,157%, depending on the variety and brand. It’s why, lacking health insurance, some Type 1 diabetics have recently been driven to ration their precious insulin. Some of them have died.

More about all that in Part Two.

 

 

 

Annals of Compensability: These Boots Ain’t Made for Walking…

Friday, November 16th, 2012

John Pearson was diagnosed in his mid-20s with diabetes and was insulin dependent. About fifteen years after the diagnosis, he was working for an Arkansas temporary placement agency, Worksource, which sent him to a steel fabricator. His temporary employer gave him a pair of steel toe boots and assigned him the task of covering warm steel bundles with blankets. The job required a lot of rapid walking across a large field, as the bundles emerged from the plant at odd intervals. In the course of the day he experienced discomfort in his left foot and at the end of the day he found a blister on his left great toe. The next day he requested a wider pair of boots, but none were available. The employer suggested he buy them, but he could not afford to do so before being paid – and payday was still a couple weeks away.
Two weeks later Pearson was diagnosed with “diabetic neuropathy and cellulitis.” Worksource sent him to another doctor, who diagnosed a diabetic ulcer and cellulitis and placed him on light duty, restricting his standing and walking. (The court is silent on how long Pearson continued to work at the steel fabricator.) Ultimately, surgery was performed on the toe, which fortunately did not require amputation, and Pearson was able to begin working again, albeit with (temporary) restrictions. Pearson took a job in a Waffle House, where he was able to resume full time work. In the meantime, he was faced with lost wages and formidable medical bills.
Proving Compensability
Pearson filed a workers comp claim, which at first was accepted and then denied on appeal to the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission. The denial was based upon an interpretation of state law:

(4)(A) “Compensable injury” means:
(i) An accidental injury causing internal or external physical harm to the body
or accidental injury to prosthetic appliances, including eyeglasses, contact lenses, or
hearing aids, arising out of and in the course of employment and which requires
medical services or results in disability or death. An injury is “accidental” only if it
is caused by a specific incident and is identifiable by time and place of occurrence;
(ii) An injury causing internal or external physical harm to the body and arising
out of and in the course of employment if it is not caused by a specific incident or is
not identifiable by time and place of occurrence, if the injury is:
(a) Caused by rapid repetitive motion.
[Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-9-102(4)(A) (Supp. 2011)]

The Arkansas Court of Appeals agreed with the commission that the injury did not meet first criteria: there was no specific incident identifiable by time and place. However, the Court found that the injury was caused by “rapid repetitive motion,” applying a two-pronged test that is stunning in its obviousness: did injury involve “repetition” and did it involve “rapidity”?
The “repetitive” part involved walking itself: Pearson walked up and down the field in tight boots, watching for the steel bundles as they emerged from the plant. The rapid part involved his walking briskly to protect the bundles as they appeared. He walked from bundle to bundle, as fast as he could, performing the job as instructed. In doing so, the boots rubbed his toe continuously over the course of the day, resulting in a blister. For most people, a blister is no big deal. For a diabetic, it could lead directly to amputation.
Lessons for management?
It is difficult to draw conclusions from this unusual case. Because Pearson was a temporary employee, the steel company had no awareness of his diabetes and no reason to be aware of it: he was able to perform the work as assigned. Theoretically, they could have done better on Pearson’s request for wider boots, but they had no reason to anticipate a serious problem beyond a bit of discomfort. Pearson himself was probably unaware of the risks involved in wearing the tight boots. He obviously was feeling pressure to earn money and probably thought the discomfort, while painful, was not a serious matter.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this case is Pearson himself: despite a life-altering health problem, he is strongly motivated to work. In the few months described in the court narrative, he tries hard to do what he’s supposed to do and he keeps working as best he can. Given comfortable footwear, Pearson will do just fine.

In Harm’s Way: A Non-Compensable Fall

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Geoffrey Hampton worked as a laborer for Intech Contracting LLC. Hampton, an insulin dependent diabetic, was working with a crew on September 9, 2009, repairing a bridge in Muhlenberg KY. Hampton suddenly uttered a profanity and walked to the edge of the bridge. He climbed over a 4 foot barrier and fell 60 feet, suffering permanent injuries.
Hampton has no memory of the incident. His co-workers testified that he had been complaining about not feeling well; that he had taken a snack of sweets to adjust his blood sugar; and that the fall did not appear to be an act of suicide.
Hampton was certainly “in the course and scope” of employment, but the question for the courts was whether his injuries arose “out of” employment. The Appeals Court found that his idiopathic condition – diabetes – was the likely cause of his actions and that his extensive injuries did not arise “out of” employment. As a result, Hampton was unable to collect workers comp.
It’s important to note that Hampton’s employer took specific steps on that fateful evening to remove Hampton from harm’s way:
– When he requested time for a break to adjust his blood sugar, they immediately consented.
[NOTE: Hampton had inadvertently left his insulin at the hotel room.]
– When Hampton complained about not feeling well toward the end of the shift, he was told to sit in the truck. He left the truck and walked toward the bridge rail on his own.
Not All Risk is Work-Related
The court noted that Hampton’s diabetes was not under control, which certainly raises the issue as to whether it was safe for him to perform this kind of work; if the employer had awareness of the medical condition, they should have required a note from Hampton’s doctor that it was safe for him to perform the essential job duties.
The court implies that there were circumstances where an injury might have been compensable: for example, if Hampton had been working near the edge of the bridge and had experienced a black out due to hypoglycemia, he would likely have been eligible for comp benefits. However, if it could be proven that the black out was the result of his own negligence in attending to his illness, perhaps the claim would still have been denied.
But Hampton was sitting in a truck, safe and secure, with no unusual risks or exposures. He was clearly out of harm’s way. There is no way of knowing why he did what he did, but it is clear that work had nothing to do with it. When he went over the rail of the Muhlenberg bridge, he gave no thought to the workers comp safety net that usually covers his every working moment. The findings of the court are both harsh and fair. For Geoffrey Hampton, the fateful date of 9/09/09 will resonate every moment of his diminished life.

Fresh Health Wonk Review & assorted news briefs

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

New Health Wonk Review – David Harlow of Health Blawg has posted an entertaining and informative Tax Day edition: Health Wonk Review: Block That Metaphor. Grab your coffee and dig in.
Diabetes prevention – At GoozNews, Merrill Goozner writes about the cost-effectiveness of diabetes prevention programs. Employers take note. We’ve frequently talked about the effect of co-morbidities such as diabetes and obesity on comp claims. Any progress on the prevention front would be good news for employers – both for the workers comp costs, and also for overall employee health and productivity.
Handy new toolCompPharmaPedia, a glossary of terms commonly used in the comp pharmacy business, published by CompPharma LLC, a consortium of workers comp PBMs. Not sure what a PBM is? Look it up!
Fleet safety – At the MEMIC Safety Blog, Randy Klatt posts about how GPS as a safety tool for fleet safety. “You can instantly see where all your trucks, vans, or cars are located and their current speeds… More efficient responses will also mean less temptation for drivers to exceed speed limits, especially since they know their movements can be seen. For those who have hours-of-service restrictions, GPS can be used to ensure accurate reporting and log keeping.”
Trainer killed by elephant – It’s been a tough time for animal trainers. A few weeks ago, a trainer was killed by a whale at a Florida”s SeaWorld, and last week, elephant handler Andrew Anderton was killed by Dumbo, the elephant that he trained and lived with for 15 years. The death is under investigation by OSHA, but was thought to be an accident after the elephant had a run in with sparks from an electrical wire. Animal-related occupational fatalities are more common than many might realize. Over a 6-year study period in the 1990s, the Department of Labor logged 350 animal-related fatalities.
Bullying – teen bullying has been much in the news of late, but unfortunately, this is not a phenomena that people outgrow. At Strategic HR Lawyer, Diane Pfadenhauer talks about workplace bullying.
Time lapse – At Comp Time, Roberto Ceniceros offers his nomination for strange claim of the month. OK, and while we’re on the theme of “strange,” we nominate the case of Copenhagen workers who went on strike in protest after an unusual work benefit was rescinded. You have to wonder what the safety record had been like.
10 ways to trigger a lawsuit – At HR Daily Advisor, Attorney Barbara Meister Cummins offers her picks for the 10 most lawsuit-attracting lines she hears from managers, part 1 and part 2. We’d add one that my colleague wrote about recently: “Don’t report that, you’ll screw up the safety bonus.”
Scary medical story of the week – If you think getting a computer virus in email program is bad, just wait until the hackers turn their sights to implantable medial devices. According to the MassDevice blog, hackers have already hijacked a patient support website for epileptics, MRI machines and electronic medical records. The post talks about these incidents and discusses the need for heightened security for devices with life-sustaining functions.
Scam alert – The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to consumers: Beware of health insurance scams.