5 Keys to Staying Healthy When Unemployed
1. Stay Insured.
When you lose a job and employer-provided health insurance, you have two choices: buy coverage through your state marketplace or buy COBRA, which is offered through your former employer and available unless you were fired for “gross misconduct.” Your COBRA coverage will be the same policy you had while employed, and you can keep it for up to 18 months. Despite the high cost, COBRA used to be among the most realistic options for people with preexisting medical conditions, says Louise Norris, a Colorado insurance expert who writes for HealthInsurance.org. But, she says, that’s no longer the case. Under the Affordable Care Act, all plans on the marketplace must cover preexisting conditions, including diabetes. The marketplace is likely less expensive for younger, generally healthy people, says David Anderson, MSPPM, a research associate at the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University, but subsidies are available to make insurance cost-effective for many people.
2. Account for Meds and Supplies.
Diabetes medications and supplies can be expensive even before the budget-tightening of lost income. Talking to your diabetes care team can help you stretch your budget without skipping doses or using expired medication or supplies—that’s dangerous and never advised, says Kathleen Guy, RD, LDN, CDE, a diabetes educator at Monongahela Valley Hospital in Pennsylvania. Providers can help you rein in diabetes costs in various ways, such as by prescribing NPH and regular insulin, type 2 combo pills, and/or type 2 combo injectables instead of multiple medications, which reduces the number of co-pays. If your insurance allows it, you can ask for a 90-day supply of medication instead of a 30-day supply to reduce your co-pay costs, she says. Your diabetes care team can help you find other ways to trim costs, such as switching to a store-brand meter and test strips, which can cost up to four times less than name-brand versions. Guy notes that providers often have samples or donated supplies that they can give to patients who need them.
3. Prioritize Your Health.
While living without a steady paycheck, you may be tempted to pinch pennies by making inexpensive but carb-heavy meals or grabbing cheap drive-through options. But that’s a risky move: 2014 data from Gallup shows that obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol all increase the longer a person is unemployed. Keeping up with healthy habits can help protect you from such risks. Look for ways to modify your costs without cutting healthy habits. Can’t shell out cash for a gym membership anymore? Work out at home.
4. Find Mental Health Help.
Losing your job can be a blow to your self-esteem and invite new stressors into your life. Because diabetes is linked to higher rates of depression, your mental health should be part of your diabetes management plan. Guy recommends talking to your health care provider, who may offer such help as deep breathing exercises to relieve tension or medication to treat depression. Some depression medications can be prescribed by a primary care provider instead of a psychiatrist, which can save you another office visit co-pay.
5. Talk It Out.
There can be a stigma around job loss, so many people hide the fact that they’re struggling. Kameron Hurley, 38, of Dayton, Ohio, is a writer with type 1 diabetes. Shortly after her diagnosis, she lost her job and was struggling to manage her diabetes, even with COBRA coverage. One thing she wished she had done at the time was let people know what she was going through. “People really do want to help you, and there are resources out there,” she says. Those include your primary care provider, specialists, and local diabetes resource centers. Other people with diabetes may be able to help, too—they could suggest safe strategies for stretching supplies and encourage your healthy living routine. Sometimes just talking about your situation at a free support group is all you need to realize you’re not alone, Guy says.
Where to Turn For Help
Abbott’s Freestyle Promise Program offers a free meter and will match the lowest co-pay for test strips offered by your health plan.
Bayer Contour Choice has a savings card with monthly co-pays as low as $15, or up to $35 off a co-pay.
Access to Wellness prescription assistance offers financial support for those who are uninsured or underinsured. Find out more at 866-317-2775.
2-1-1 is a free service across the United States and parts of Canada that can help people access resources in their area, such as supplemental food and nutrition programs, health care information, employment opportunities, and support groups.
The American Diabetes Association, nationally and locally, has resources for people struggling to pay for their supplies. Call 800-DIABETES for more.
What About Kids?
Children and young adults who have diabetes and are on their parents’ insurance plan are also at risk when adults lose their coverage. Young people 18 and older can buy their own coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, as losing parental coverage qualifies as a life event, says David Anderson, MSPPM, a research associate at the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy. They can also be included in their parents’ new coverage via COBRA or the marketplace.
Parents can also apply for Medicaid coverage for their children and—in states with Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act—for themselves. “It doesn’t hurt to apply, or reapply if you’ve tried in the past,” Anderson says.
Social Security disability coverage can be a good option for some people seeking health insurance. But, says Louise Norris, an insurance expert in Colorado who writes for HealthInsurance.org, most folks with diabetes likely don’t qualify. If diabetes complications impede your ability to find a new job, however, you might have a case. Start online to learn more: ssa.gov.