Hard to swallow

By Nancy Black

It was a really tragic Sunday in March for me. That led to a really bad Monday, which eventually sent me into arterial fibrillation — AFib. It’s a condition that makes your heart race like you’re running a marathon. It’s a common problem among “adults my age.” Boy, I am really getting tired of hearing that phrase!

Anyway, I ended up at my doctor’s office that Tuesday morning with the lung capacity of a grape. He took one listen to my chest, got out his electrocardiogram machine (EKG) and confirmed I was in full blown AFib. He ordered me to go straight to the emergency room. 

The ER doctor took one listen to my heart, did another EKG and admitted me to the cardio unit. The next 23 hours were a blur of doctors, nurses, technicians and health aids coming in and out of my room. But I do remember the cardio doctor, because he was so serious when he told me to get my prescription for my new blood thinner filled immediately. And to follow up with him within seven days.

My heart finally converted back to normal rhythm later that night, so I was released the next afternoon. My friend who picked me up drove us straight to the pharmacy for my new medication. 

“That will be $471.94,” my pharmacist said from behind the glass of the drive through window.

“Say, what?!?” I said in a shocked voice from the passenger seat. 

Long story short, yes, my new meds were almost $500 per month. But wait! The hospital doctor gave me a fancy information packet from the drug maker with a coupon for a free month’s supply. 

Yay! 

I start my new, two-times a day pill routine and life seems to be calming down a bit.

Uh, oh! The month’s supply is up, and I need more. 

I call my regular doctor to see if he has any free coupons or samples. He doesn’t. So, I call the pharmaceutical company, as instructed on their promotional package, to activate my “savings card,” which also came in the drug’s packet. It would make my monthly blood thinner only cost $10 per month instead of $500. After surviving more than 20 minutes of computer prompts and instructions, I heard a computerized voice say, “Congratulations! Your card is ready to use immediately.” 

Yay!

I head back to the pharmacy.

Oh, no! The pharmacy says that they still show I am ineligible for the discount. For the third time in as many days, I drive away from the pharmacy empty handed. I wouldn’t really be worried about the whole ordeal if I hadn’t spent so much time reading the drug’s information packet while waiting on the phone for my discount card. It states in HUGE, BOLD letters “Do not stop” taking this medication suddenly. Doing so “increases your risk of having a stroke.”

Say, what?!?

As if I weren’t already stressed out enough about my heart. Now, not only am I stressed about not being able to afford my medicine, I’m also stressed that I’m going to die from not taking my medicine. 

I will end up (fingers crossed) being able to activate the discount after getting a PA — Physician’s Authorization form — from my main doctor and sending it back to the pharmacy and insurance company. 

Yay! 

But how many people would have given up before then? Why is it so complicated, and sometimes impossible, for Americans get affordable medicine?

Something has got to change in our health care system. My situation isn’t unique in our country, it’s the norm. People in the U.S. are dying every day from lack of insulin and other medications they need to survive but can’t afford; medications that are readily available, and affordable, in other countries.

Pharmaceutical companies deserve to make money. They spend lots of it researching and developing drugs to help save lives. But by pricing their products to such a degree, they set up patients to fail and/or die. I feel that is what happened to me. 

And that is definitely not something I want to cheer about. 

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