CHELMSFORD (CBS) – A Chelmsford college student is learning a tough lesson in the politics of health care. Since she was diagnosed with diabetes at age 9, Katie Slowe has used an insulin pump to regulate her blood sugar. It is a lifesaving but expensive device. “It’s almost $1,000 a month to keep her alive,” her mother, Kathie explained. As a single mother of three, Kathie has been grateful she and her family qualified for MassHealth and all those expenses were covered.
That all changed when Katie returned home after her freshman year at UMass Amherst and scheduled several doctor’s appointments. “People were calling me saying ‘You don’t have health insurance.’ How are you going to pay for this?” she said.
The problem is Katie turned 19 and that is when MassHealth pulls the plug on full-time college students. She was uninsured, with just a few days left of insulin supplies. “Without it she dies,” her mother said.
The state does provide help for people like Katie. It’s called the Health Safety Net which covers insulin, but not her pump delivery system. According to her mom, the injections don’t work nearly as well as the pump. “It means the control of her diabetes is nowhere near as effective and long term, she could have major complications from blindness to kidney failure,” Kathie said.
According to the state, Katie is not covered because as a full time student, she is eligible for health insurance through UMass. But the $2,755 dollar price tag is not covered by Katie’s financial aid and her mom, who shares a house with another family to make ends meet, says she can’t afford it.
State Senator Richard Moore is the Chairman of the joint committee on health care financing and he agrees that Katie is in a tough spot, but admits it’s not an easy problem to fix.
Katie could be eligible for more government help if she was a part-time student, but that would mean the end of her financial aid package. “It’s not a good choice to have to choose between full-time college and health coverage,” said Senator Moore. “We really need to look into this.”
Katie doesn’t want to have to rely on government programs for her health insurance, but in order to do that, she says she needs to stay in school. “Get through my major, graduate and get a job that I can sustain myself on,” she said.
Under National Health Care Reform, students from families with private insurance are covered until age 26 under their parents policies. But Katie and countless other students are on their own.