3 Tips For Anyone Turning 26 with Diabetes (and Switching Health Care Plans)

Do you have diabetes and will turn 26 in the near future? Will you be forced to switch from your parents’ health insurance to your own plan? If the answer to both of those questions is “yes”, then you’ll definitely want to take a minute to read my tips on how to make the transition as smoothly as possible. And even if you answered “no”, you still might find this to be a worthwhile read because chances are, either you or someone you know will have to go through this process, whether or not you/they have diabetes.

Here are the three most valuable tips I have for anyone who just turned, or is about to turn, 26 years old and is concerned about switching health care plans:

HUGGING THE CACTUS - A T1D BLOG
I figured out these tips the hard way. Save yourself a lot of frustration and time by following them A.S.A.P.

Tip #1: Ask your doctor for copies of all of your prescriptions. Do this well before your actual birthday. That’s what I did, anyways – I had a scheduled appointment with my endocrinologist at the end of April. That’s when I requested a copy of every single prescription she’s ever written for me, including for medications that I don’t really use anymore (e.g., Lantus, the long-acting insulin I used prior to my insulin pump). Then, I made multiple copies of these prescriptions, taking care to separate the originals from the copies. This tip really came from my mother, who told me that having the prescriptions now would save me trouble later. And she was right: When I did send in my Humalog prescription to Express Scripts, I did so with more confidence because I didn’t have to scramble to request it from my doctor.

Tip #2: Start the process of reordering supplies as soon as possible. Even if it means starting to reorder things on your actual birthday…do it. I’d say this is especially important if you’re running low on supplies. It took me nearly two months to start receiving stuff. Part of this was my fault because I procrastinated, and was also at an advantage because my mother took the time to order me plenty of extra supplies before I made the switch. But it was also the fault of the companies I was ordering from, who, for various reasons, didn’t send out my supplies on time or needed a longer period of time to review my orders before shipping them out. I’m lucky that I can say that I was never truly worried that I was going to run out of supplies, but the thought did cross my mind a few times, and it was unpleasant. So save yourself from aggravation and just get the ball rolling as soon as you can.

Tip #3: Keep records of everything. I keep a physical folder that contains receipts, prescriptions, photocopies, notes, and various other documents related to my health. I can’t say for sure what I’ll actually need to keep or throw away in the coming months, but I do know that it’s smart to hold onto this stuff in the beginning. That way, during my company’s next open enrollment period, I’ll be able to make informed decisions regarding things like how much money to put in my flexible spending account (FSA). Plus, any notes that I’ve taken during phone calls have already proved immensely helpful as I’ve needed to track down specific customer service representatives in order to take care of issues that have come up. It can be a little cumbersome to remember to keep all these papers, but I know it’s the right thing to do and that there’s no way that I’ll regret it.

BONUS Tip #4: Advocate for yourself until you get what you need. At first, I felt extremely awkward for calling Dexcom and Insulet every single day for a week. But then I realized that I shouldn’t. They weren’t going to make sure that I had my supplies: I had to depend on myself to do that. I also felt a bit stupid asking just about every customer service representative that I spoke to how everything works, but I eventually got over that, too, because it’s vital to understand this stuff, even when it seems extraordinarily complicated. So I’d tell anyone who’s going through this process, or who is about to go through it, to keep up the hustle. Don’t ever feel shame for asking too many questions or calling too many times; when it comes to all this, the limit doesn’t exist. Ask others for help when you need it (I spoke with all sorts of people in the DOC about my issues, and goodness knows that my mother provided me with all sorts of advice and support throughout this) and, with their assistance and a little determination on your part, you’ll get through this tiresome transition.

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Why is it so Difficult to Order Life-Saving Medical Supplies?

When it comes to obtaining my diabetes supplies – life-saving pieces of medical equipment – I’ve discovered that it’s not a simple process. It’s not exactly like purchasing something on Amazon with a single click. Rather, it’s a convoluted, head-scratching, infuriatingly long procedure that apparently involves multiple calls to a variety of companies.

As of this writing, it took approximately 4 calls to my endocrinologist’s office, 12-14 calls to Insulet (the maker of my OmniPod insulin pump), 6 or 7 calls to Dexcom (for my CGM supplies), 2 calls to my health insurance provider, and 1 call to Express Scripts just to get everything all straightened away. These calls took place over the course of 2.5 months, and as they grew in frequency, so did my overall frustration and confusion.

The biggest headache was definitely caused by the lack of effective communication between Insulet and my endocrinologist’s office. I needed to get a new PDM, and Insulet’s job was to contact my doctor’s office and get a letter of medical necessity in order to get a PDM shipped out to me. Simple, right?

Why is it so Difficult to Order Life-Saving Medical Supplies_
My call log looked like this for several days in July – so many phone calls to Insulet/OmniPod and to my doctor.

Far from it. About a week after I placed the order for the new PDM, I got an email from Insulet saying that my doctor’s office had failed to return their faxes. I was advised to contact them to determine the delay. When I did, I spoke with a receptionist who, despite my clear explanation of the issue, misunderstood what I was asking for and left me a voicemail to say that she didn’t know what Insulet was talking about seeing as their information showed that I had received a shipment from them. (For whatever reason, she thought I needed more pods, which I did have delivered around the same time that all of this was going on.)

After several more back-and-forth phone calls, I cracked the case wide open: Insulet had the wrong contact information for my doctor. While my endocrinologist hasn’t changed in about a decade, her office location has, and Insulet still had the old one. I felt like an idiot for not realizing this sooner, but then again…why was I the one who was jumping through so many hoops and making so many contact attempts in order to figure out what the hold-up was? It was absolutely ridiculous, but I certainly felt relieved – and satisfied – to have personally solved the mystery.

I wish I could say I had a better experience with Dexcom, but that proved to be similarly headache-inducing. I thought that I was set to receive my supplies after I’d signed a payment plan for a 90-day supply of sensors and transmitters, but when they didn’t show up after a month of waiting, I knew something was wrong. I called Dexcom and discovered that the order, for reasons unknown, just didn’t process, so I had to sign a brand-new payment plan and had my case assigned to a different customer service rep. I was pretty pissed off by the lack of communication, but the one silver lining was that I’d already managed to pay my deductible in full (ha, no surprises there), so my Dexcom supply order would cost me less. Again, it was unbelievable that I never got an update from the company regarding my order’s status, but I did feel a sting of pride in myself for getting it all worked out on my own.

I don’t know why everything about this process is so agonizing. But what I do know for sure is that it seems that the only person I can count on to get my supplies ordered properly, in the end, is myself.

When Diabetes Isn’t Responsible for an ER Trip

If something unexpected happens to me in terms of my health, I can almost always safely blame diabetes for causing whatever it may be. But when I absolutely, definitely cannot blame my diabetes, I can’t help but feel angry at my body for rebelling at me in ways that it shouldn’t. Particularly when those ways end up with me making a trip to the emergency room.

Let me set the scene: It was a Tuesday evening, around 7:45 P.M. My partner and I were watching an episode of Stranger Things (we’re not caught up yet so please, don’t spoil it for me). Suddenly, I felt an itch on my upper left arm. Like anyone would, I scratched it. But then it got more intense. Like, really, seriously itchy. I rolled up my sleeve so I would be able to scratch with greater ease, and was surprised to feel some bumps emerging on the itchy patch of skin.

I peeled off my sweater and stepped into better lighting in the bathroom so I could examine the area better. There was a large patch of red, inflamed skin on my arm that was covered with bumps that looked like hives. I was dumbfounded. Unsure of what triggered the hives, but alarmed by how swollen and irritated my arm looked, I shot a couple text messages to my EMT father and nurse best friend, who both advised me to get my arm looked at stat.

HUGGING THE CACTUS - A T1D BLOG
Stranger things have happened in my life with diabetes (just had to sneak a pun in there)

And that’s how I found myself in a crowded emergency room, tearful and furious at my body, on a random weeknight. Part of me was relieved that my diabetes didn’t seem to have anything to do with this (but see my recent post on Metformin and you’ll understand that I have some theories about that being the cause). But the other part of me was so pissed off that my body just couldn’t be normal for once. I felt that my body was lashing out at me like an unruly child, declaring its anger towards me in the form of an incredibly itchy, ugly rash. I couldn’t help but stew over the whole situation the entire time I waited to see a doctor.

Long story short, a dose of Benadryl cleared up the hives within an hour. The doctor was unable to determine a cause, since I couldn’t think of anything new introduced to my diet or any new scents/lotions/detergents used in my household. And insect bites got ruled out because the doctor was certain that a bite would be more localized and not spread in a giant patch on my arm. I’m still perplexed at how it happened, but I guess I just have to make peace with the fact that it did and be grateful for 1) making a total recovery from it and 2) not experiencing any issues with my blood sugars as a result of it.

When diabetes isn’t responsible for an ER trip, it means that it’s okay to still be upset about it, but also glad for not having to explain the intricacies of diabetes to every doctor and nurse that walks into the room…because I can’t think of a single PWD that would ever feel happy about taking on that happy task.

Why Waiting for Prescription Refills Feels Like a Pending Punishment

I’ve been waiting.

I’m waiting, impatiently, to learn just how much I’m going to have to pay for a 90 day supply of insulin.

I’ve been waiting for what will inevitably feel like a punishment.

Capture

It’ll feel like a punishment because it will feel harsh and unavoidable. And it’ll be more intense than is fair because my only offense is having a pancreas that doesn’t work the way that it should.

Every time I log into the Express Scripts website, I feel a sense of dread sweep my body. I anxiously click around the portal until I get to the recent order screen (see above image). My eyes immediately flock to the blue box that will eventually display how much money I owe for my insulin.

It’s a process that reminds me of checking my grades when I was in college: After I took an exam, I’d enter my username and password into the student portal to find out whether grades were posted. I’d repeat this process multiple times a day until I found out how I scored. It was a nerve-wracking routine back then, but I wish I could tell my younger self that that was NOTHING compared to looking up the cost of my insulin.

 

Metformin Update #3: Is it My Imagination…or Side Effects?

Frequent readers of this blog are probably familiar with my journey with Metformin. If you aren’t, or want to brush up on my history with it, read here, here, and here in order to get caught up.

The big white “horse pill” that is known as Metformin has become a relatively solid part of my routine in the last six or so weeks. I’ve skipped doses here and there for varying reasons (i.e., on occasions when I’ve had two or more alcoholic beverages); otherwise, I’ve been taking it and monitoring my blood sugars carefully each day.

But apparently, my blood sugars aren’t the only thing I should be watching diligently.

METFORMIN UPDATE #2

Just like any other drug out there, Metformin comes with side effects…which I totally chose to discount from the beginning, mainly because my endocrinologist thought that the extended release tablets would mitigate the likelihood of side effects. I’m questioning that logic, though, after experiencing indigestion and general stomach discomfort within a few hours after taking my Metformin pill.

It didn’t happen just once. There were at least three consecutive days that I experienced these symptoms. Within an hour or so after eating dinner, I felt uncomfortably full – like I’d eaten a whole Thanksgiving meal instead of a normally portioned dinner. I know that I wasn’t eating a larger quantity of food than usual, and since I typically have a semi-insatiable appetite, I knew that it just had to be related to my Metformin dose.

I decided to do some more research into the side effects of Metformin. And I was pretty surprised by what I saw. Shocked, actually. Because evidently, a massive array of side effects can occur on Metformin. The stomach discomfort I’d experienced was common, but other side effects that caught my attention included restless sleep, muscle pain, cramping, and a rash/hives.

Very interesting. I’ve felt all of those things in the last few weeks. I chalked it up to overdoing it with my exercises, but…it’s not like I was doing anything new or particularly strenuous in my routines. I do a combination of cardio and resistance training, for about an hour most days of the week. I always make sure to stretch before and after working out, and yet I felt a soreness and achiness (mostly in my legs) for a few nights in a row a couple weeks back. There was even one night that I tossed and turned so much that I hardly slept a wink – the restlessness in my legs was that bad. And the rash/hives? I’ll go into more detail in a future post, but on a random Tuesday night, I experienced a breakout so bad that I wound up going to the ER. They cleared up within an hour or so of a Benadryl dose, but it was still a scary experience.

Okay, so I think I can safely blame all of these issues on my Metformin intake. But that still doesn’t quite answer why I was experiencing multiple symptoms so suddenly. My theory is that my body was struggling to adjust to taking Metformin consistently, and as a result, I was feeling the side effects. There’s no way for me to be sure, but I think this warrants another experiment…another break from Metformin. My blood sugars have been good on it, but have they improved so drastically that I can’t imagine life without Metformin?

The answer is a resounding no.

I’ll likely consult with my endocrinologist at some point to tell her my thoughts and theories. But for now, I’m taking a break for an unknown period of time to see if there’s any change in how my body feels. We’ll see how it goes.

Favorite Things Friday: Vial Safe Insulin Protector

One Friday per month, I’ll write about my favorite things that make life with diabetes a little easier for me.

Okay, so it’s DEFINITELY been a few months since I last wrote about a favorite thing of mine. I admit that I started running out of things that I deemed worthy enough of sharing with my readers! It felt silly to continue doing it on a monthly basis if I didn’t have anything particularly great to write about, so I stopped, promising myself that I’d pick it up again the next time I got excited about a product.

Enter the Vial Safe insulin protector sleeves that I just ordered.

Favorite Things Friday_ Vial Safe Insulin Protector.png

I’d seen posts about these little insulin vial jackets before on Instagram, and I always had them bookmarked in the back of my mind as something I should order. After all, I’ve felt the agony of a shattered insulin vial before, and let me tell you: It’s awful. I was somewhat young when I broke my first (and hopefully only) vial and basically brushed the whole thing off because I assumed that it would be easy (i.e., free) to get a replacement. But now, at age 26 and in my first few months of being on my own health insurance plan, I know better. Accidentally breaking an insulin vial in this day in age seems like the equivalent to setting a stack of hundred dollar bills on fire – completely pointless, unnecessary, and wasteful.

So I’m betting that my two new Vial Safe sleeves will help protect me from ever experiencing a shattered vial again. I’m especially looking forward to bringing them with me on my next trip, as they’ll surely keep my vials more secure as I have the tendency to shove them wherever I can find space in my luggage.

I bought my Vial Safe insulin protectors on Amazon, but there also available for purchase here. And no, I wasn’t asked (and I’m definitely not being paid) to write about these or any other products I’ve ever mentioned on Hugging the Cactus – I simply believe in spreading the word about a quality item if it has helped make diabetes management easier for me in some way.

 

Metformin Update #2: Reintroducing Myself to the Big White Pill

It’s been a minute since I wrote about my Metformin journey on the blog. The last time I posted about it, I had made the decision to stop taking it after experiencing a scary low blood sugar. That, coupled with the fact that I just didn’t feel ready to be experimenting so much with my diabetes medication, convinced me that the timing wasn’t right for me and Metformin.

Fast-forward to May 30, 2019. I had an appointment with my endocrinologist. It was a productive one, because we addressed a number of my concerns that have cropped up in the last three months. One question I had for her was whether she thought I should give Metformin another shot.

METFORMIN UPDATE #2
Really though, why do these darn pills have to be so large?

She thought that I should. We went over the benefits: it’d make my insulin more effective, thereby fighting back against my current insulin resistance and reducing my total daily intake. With less artificially-made insulin in my system, I may be reducing my risk for cancer (according to studies she’s read), and I may also shed a few of the pounds that I’ve been struggling to lose.

By the time of this appointment, I was feeling frustrated with the amounts of insulin I was using each day. Ever since I got off my parents’ health insurance plan, I’ve been super conscious about my supply of insulin as I try to figure out how I’ll afford it under my new plan. And it hasn’t been easy. So in an effort to reduce my overall insulin use, I decided it was time to give Metformin another go.

I’m more cautious this time around. My doctor and I talked about my fears and she helped me come up with a plan to reintroduce it to my diabetes care and management routine. I’m starting to take less insulin at dinnertime and I’m running a temp basal overnight to see how my blood sugars fare. We’re playing it safe by somewhat dramatically reducing my dinnertime insulin-to-carb ratio, but I’d much rather do that than be overly aggressive.

It’s only been about a week since I’ve started the new regimen. That’s not enough time for me to attest to whether or not I’ve adjusted to it, because I deliberately skipped taking Metformin on a couple nights in which I knew I’d be imbibing alcohol…again, it’s all about being smart and not introducing too many variables at once. We’ll see how it goes. Until Metformin update #3, that’s all I’ve got for now.