Back Page News: The Financial Burden of Healthcare in America

  • By Carol Bradley Bursack

    $593.43. I’m standing at the pharmacy counter. If I write a check, I can’t pay my house payment.

    $593.43. I pull out a credit card, grit my teeth and slide the card through.

    I work for a good company, one that was willing to hire me at age 56 after a divorce and twenty years out of the “real” work force. I have health insurance and prescription coverage.

    $593.43 is the amount I needed to pay for most – not all, but most – of the medications my son and I required for that month. This amount is the co-pay and the 30 percent the insurance doesn’t cover. I still had a few more prescriptions to go.
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    Streaming through my head: Skip the meds? Then how do I work? What will happen to my son?

    $593.43 is a figure that sticks in my mind, because I called in a large batch of prescription re-fills all at once that month. Usually, I break it down more, picking up some week by week. That doesn’t make it cheaper, but it makes it less shocking.

    $593.43. Shocking is the only word that works.

    I am the sole provider for my youngest son, Adam, and myself. He has Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), asthma, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), migraines and allergies. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), allergies, and migraines.

    The migraine medication is an enormous expense, but I wouldn’t be able to work without it. I’ve had chronic migraines since I was fifteen and had whiplash. Arthritis has eaten into my neck vertebrae so badly that one doctor thought I had bone cancer, after evaluating my x-ray. The muscles have “healed” into a twisted mass. Each doctor who has viewed an x-ray has shaken his head and wondered how I function.

    Function? I’ve always told my son that this is the life we have, so we have to give it everything we can. We don’t want just to function. We want to live, and we live with grateful hearts.

    Pain has taught us both to appreciate what really matters, like family, friends, and a terrific community. Still, this is the real world. The real world demands that I work. I want to work. I need medication to function so I can work. Yet, the cost of the medication puts me in debt. Something seems wrong with that equation.

    Could I go on disability? Likely, but I don’t want to. Could Adam? Yes, but I don’t want to sentence him to a life of poverty. I want to see him get well enough to use his enormous talent, help others, and earn a decent living. But will he ever be able to afford his medications? Am I still too idealistic after all these years?

    How do I not buy his medications? I’m his mother.

    The lyrics of songs Adam writes scream out the physical and emotional pain he’s lived with since, as a very young child, a virus kicked in his genetic illnesses. Young people find their own messages of pain, physical and emotional, in his literary lyrics. One song, “Back Page News” prompts tearful emails from anorexics and other teens. Adam sings:

    When I die, will I be above the fold

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    or back page news, with the sick and the old?

    Some of Adam’s other songs cause kids addicted to drugs to stop and cry. They relate to this young man who, with all his pain, keeps struggling onward, keeps trying to help others lead a better quality life.

    I am 61 years old. I have little social security. I cared for seven elders for about two decades while I did some freelance writing and raised my young sons. I wrote a caregiver’s support book. That’s not “real work,” so there’s no retirement income from those years. The cost of our medications is eating up any hope of retirement for me.

    That’s okay. I don’t need to retire. I want to keep contributing. But will my body hold out?

    My mother inherited a nice sum of money, but spent over seven years in a private room in a nursing home. Her money and her life ran out nearly in tandem. She, too, had worried about paying the cost of care. Fortunately, my uncle was able to pay that for her. I won’t have an inheritance to leave my sons. I won’t have money to pay for my nursing home care. I just pray I won’t be leaving my kids debt. And I pray that Adam won’t live a life of poverty as the price for his genetic health problems.

    $593.43. If it were only one month, I’d shrug and pay it off. Just a cost of living. But it’s a monster that keeps growing. And there are many others who have it much worse. Will this medical debt make it impossible for me to continue helping elders and caregivers through my book and Web site? Will it keep young people from hearing my son’s lyrics? Lyrics that can help heal troubled young people? Is this how America is supposed to work?

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Published On: December 11, 2006