Dealing with a chronic illness is already stressful on its own. But when you can't afford your medication, it makes living with a chronic illness that much harder.
Opinion column by Bernetha Patterson
When I was growing up, my mother always said, "You can't afford to be sick." But I eagerly awaited my time to enroll in Medicare because I always heard that the program took care of seniors. Now, at 65 and finally enrolled in Medicare, I realize the true meaning behind my mom's words. For the first time in my life, I can't afford to fill my prescription.
After suffering a stroke in 2011, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. My prescription drug costs were always manageable through my employer-provided insurance. But the first time I filled my prescription since enrolling in Medicare this year, I was shocked. My copays shot up from $46 to $400 a month.
Even though I still work full time, I did expect to have to budget hundreds of dollars more for a single month's supply of my medication, and the added cost was more than I could afford. I asked my sister and my kids to pitch in to help me purchase my medication. It felt awful asking for their help, but it was my only option.
I realized then that this country doesn't always care for its seniors as it should. When three-fourths of seniors find the cost of their prescriptions is unreasonable, it is obvious that our health care system is broken. For nearly two decades, federal law barred Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices, leaving seniors to foot the bill for increasing drug costs.
Unfortunately, the cost to treat my diabetes just kept skyrocketing. When I needed to fill my prescription a second time, I was upset to see my copay had climbed from $400 to $700 for the same medication I took the month before. I refused to go back to my family to pay for my medication. My children have their own families to take care of; they shouldn't have to pay for me because Medicare won't. Instead, I am forgoing filling my prescription this month. I don't know what will happen, but I know purchasing my medication is simply not an option.
I know I am not alone in my struggle to afford the high cost of prescriptions. One in five older Americans report not taking their medication as prescribed due to cost. Medicare coverage simply wasn't working for me.
Thankfully, that is all about to change since President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. The historic legislation caps out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients at $2,000 annually; caps insulin copays at $35 a month; penalizes drug companies that raise prices faster than inflation; and finally allows Medicare to begin negotiating drug prices.
Lowering the out-of-pocket costs for my medications will have a huge impact in my life. Not only will I be able to fill my prescription, but I can retire sooner. I've worked my entire life, and at almost 66 years old, I'm tired. But I can't rest just yet, as some House Republicans, including Georgia's own Rep. Buddy Carter, discuss repealing these reforms if Republicans prevail in the midterms.
Dealing with a chronic illness is already stressful on its own. But when you can't afford your medication, or when politicians restrict your health care access to score political points, it makes living with a chronic illness that much harder.
Seniors like myself shouldn't have to skip their medications, and we shouldn't have to delay retirement because of the high costs of health care. With the health provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act comes the peace of mind that I will be able to afford my prescription medications and be one step closer to retiring. But that peace of mind hangs by a thread that Republican leaders threaten to cut.
Bernetha Patterson lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia.