Maraya and Evelyn Wiltrout of Cambridge sat front and center at the Sept. 25 CNN Healthcare Townhall Debate in Washington as Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar used an anecdote to argue her stance for addressing high-cost prescription medication and increasing competition in the marketplace.
The Democratic senator revealed how Type 1 diabetes has affected the family by introducing the girls as softball players.
"One is a pitcher, and one is a catcher. One has diabetes, the other one doesn't," Klobuchar said at the debate, which was broadcast on national television. "But guess what, does it matter which one has diabetes and which one doesn't — the pitcher or the catcher? What really matters with these identical twins ... is that they both should be able to be healthy and have affordable insurance, not be hurt because one has a pre-existing condition."
Born in Worthington, Maraya and Evelyn are the daughters of Eric, a Worthington native and graduate, and Shari Wiltrout. They are the granddaughters of Worthington couple Karen and Joel Wiltrout, and niece of Worthington Police Department Sgt. Brett Wiltrout and wife Ashley.
Maraya and Evelyn became acquainted with Klobuchar after their mother, Shari, responded to one of the senator's tweets about how the cost of insulin has affected their family.
The tweeted response gained attention from the Star Tribune, and the dominos kept falling from there. Klobuchar's team found the article and asked Shari to speak at a July press conference in St. Paul about the cost of insulin.
"It's not only the cost of insulin, but also the cost of prescriptions and equipment that are vital to keeping a Type 1 diabetic alive and healthy are so expensive and the prices keep going up," Shari said.
It was exactly two years ago when the Wiltrout family learned the price tag attached to managing diabetes to keep their daughter alive and healthy after discovering Maraya had developed Type 1 diabetes.
The then-10-year-old began getting thinner, was more irritable and sleeping more than normal.
Shari said she and her husband attributed Maraya's change in behavior to typical changes as she approached her teenage years.
They got more concerned as her appetite deteriorated, her thirst became unquenchable and she made frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.
"So we decided to buy a glucometer," Shari said. "My husband made a huge breakfast of pancakes, orange juice and all the sugary things that go along with that and tested her blood sugar, and the meter was too high it couldn't read it — it said to seek immediate medical attention."
Thinking it may be a fluke, Eric decided to test her sister, Evelyn.
"Because, you know that's what you do with twins — if it doesn't work on one, try the other," Shari added. "(Evelyn's) was perfect."
After the trip to the emergency room confirmed that Maraya was a Type 1 diabetic, the Wiltrout family went straight to Children's Minnesota and got a crash course how to manage Maraya's diabetes.
The trip to the pharmacy to retrieve needed medical supplies was the family's first dose of the cost reality.
"The costs kept rolling in," Shari said. "Payment plans have been a godsend — insurance paying their part has been very helpful — but there's been a lot of argument over who pays for what and trying to get things covered."
Maraya is on an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor — a little sensor under her skin that reads her glucose levels every five minutes and sends that information to her cellphone.
"Which she wouldn't have — there's no way I'd let kids that age have a phone — if it weren't for diabetes," Shari said.
That information is also sent to Shari's phone, which also has the ability to trigger an alarm in the middle of the night if Maraya's levels are dipping low.
"A lot of people don't have access to that technology — it's cost-prohibitive — but it has absolutely saved her life at least two times," Shari said. "If I hadn't gotten those alarms, I don't know if she'd be with us today."
That technology and prescription medication forces the Wiltrout family to budget wisely — especially as Jan. 1 approaches, as Shari said they will be required to pay around $3,000 out-of-pocket before reaching their out-of-pocket maximum and assistance from insurance kicks in.
With Maraya's Type 1 diabetes and her sister having a higher likelihood of developing it, the Wiltrouts appreciate Sen. Klobuchar actively trying to lower the cost of prescription medication.
The high-cost of managing diabetes hits closer to home in the Wiltrout family, as Brett Wiltrout also developed Type 1 diabetes in adulthood.
A clip of the bipartisan debate between Sen. Klobuchar; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. can be found online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bG27bB2ERk.
Klobuchar's shout-out to the Wiltrout twins is around one hour, 16 seconds.