MOORHEAD — Every month, 20-year-old Meghan Mateuszczyk has to figure out how she will pay $500 for five pens of insulin.
For the Minnesota State University Moorhead sophomore from Rogers, Minn., the thought of having to find a job with good health insurance, and the fear she might not be able to afford life-saving medicine to treat her diabetes, is terrifying, she said.
“Even though that is five, six years away from me, I know that comes quickly,” she said Wednesday, Dec. 4.
It’s why Mateuszczyk decided to become an advocate for reducing the price of insulin in the U.S. She spoke in support of a bill introduced this summer by Sens. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., that aims to bring down the cost of insulin. She’s voiced her support for a Minnesota assistance program that has been held up by disagreements in the state Legislature. And she's started a social media campaign featuring gold vials to illustrate that "insulin is worth its weight in gold, but should not cost as much."
Mateuszczyk was 11 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2011, but she didn’t become active in speaking for patients until late 2018. She emailed Smith about the challenges she faces when it comes to affording insulin.
Mateuszczyk was invited to speak June 21 in Minneapolis at Smith’s announcement of the Emergency Access to Insulin Act. Soon, more patient advocates and politicians asked Mateuszczyk to tell her story.
She helped launch “The Gold Vial Project” on various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Those involved paint insulin vials gold or fill them with gold-colored liquid before handing them out. They also share facts about the insulin market and diabetes.
Mateuszczyk has talked about insulin with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who can be spotted in photos with his gold vial on his podium while speaking about the issue. “It feels like some of my work is getting paid off,” Mateuszczyk said of seeing the vials with politicians.
Walz has been pushing the state Legislature to hold public hearings on Minnesota's insulin assistance program. Lawmakers are trying to work out plans to address the high cost of insulin, but disagreements between the Democratic-led House and the Republican-led Senate have stalled the process.
The delays are frustrating, Mateuszczyk said, especially in light of stories of patients dying after rationing insulin because they can’t afford the medicine.
“There are people dying from this insulin crisis," she said. "I feel like the worst has happened, and if that’s not enough for them, I’m just not sure what it will take for them to come to a conclusion in a timely manner.”
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Smith called Mateuszczyk a real hero with a strong voice who is “bringing a very important issue to the forefront that affects millions of people around the country.”
It’s unfair that a person with diabetes has to spend so much money for insulin when it costs so little to produce, the senator said. The country needs Mateuszczyk’s voice, but it’s ridiculous that the U.S. has to rely on young Americans to bring attention to the issue, Smith said.
“I start from the place that it is just unacceptable that anyone in America should have to choose between paying for their medicine and buying groceries or paying rent,” Smith said.
Smith cosigned another insulin-related bill last month with Cramer that would study what they called an affordability crisis across the nation.
Mateuszczyk is glad the country is starting to act on the issue, but she said "there is a lot more that needs to happen."
“In order for this to be successful, it has to be all or nothing,” she said. “What we are really asking for is fairness and just the ability to feel secure.”