As a postlude to the last post about health care & insurance, I thought I’d write a post about how to be successful with diabetes (or any chronic illness) on a very limited budget. There have been several times in my life where I have had to struggle to get the health care and medicine I needed. These times included:
· The last part of my undergraduate college years, when I was kicked off my parents’ insurance, and when the health plan the school provided for students was no where near good enough to help me out.
· After I graduated when I was unemployed for a few months, and had no insurance.
· When I was employed with 2 jobs to make ends meet. My full time job wouldn’t insure me until after 6 months of full-time employment (during which 6 months they did everything they could to not schedule me enough to work full-time hours). The other part time job I had was a stepping stone to a good full-time position at company, but I had to wait until a full-time position opened up. As soon as I was offered a full-time position, the company immediately gave me health insurance, but until then, I was on my own, working two jobs.
· During graduate school when my school’s health insurance was good, but their prescription drug coverage plan was completely inadequate for anyone who needed medication for a chronic illness.
· After graduate school while I was trying to find employment.
So, as you can see, I’ve had a lot of practice figuring out how to get health care for myself! It was a frustrating challenge and I ended up spending a lot of my savings, my student loan money, and my family’s money on health care. In addition to depleting my and my family’s financial resources on medical costs, I also discovered and utilized several other resources available. So, here they are!
Resources for Health Insurance/Doctor's Visits
The absolute best way to get health insurance for a diabetic is to get it through an employer. It’s impossible, right now, to purchase an affordable private health plan for someone with a pre-existing condition. So, if you can get a full-time job that offers good health care, that’s the best way. If not, there are “high-risk insurance pools” in each state that you can join, through which you can purchase health coverage. These are still very expensive. When I was working two jobs but still couldn’t get insurance, I purchased one of these plans (which was GREAT) but it cost $400 a month (which, when you only make minimum wage, is a lot of money). I paid for part of it, and I was blessed enough that my church helped pay for the rest of it until I could get insured through my job.
If you are unemployed or disabled, you can look into Medicare or Medicaid. If you have a child who needs health coverage, CHIP is a great resource. Sometimes, depending on your situation, your best option will be to get health care through free clinics. Many city and county health departments have free clinics, but it is often hard to get in them, as you have to wait a long time, so be prepared for that. Contact your city or county for help in locating a free clinic.
For more information about what kind of health care is available to you, in your particular situation, the government has set up an awesomely helpful new site called healthcare.gov. I highly suggest checking it out if you need help getting medical care! It is VERY easy to use too!
If you don’t have prescription drug coverage, there are a few ways to find cheaper drugs.
First, you can try to purchase them at cost through cheaper pharmacies, or wholesale groups. This can still be very expensive though.
You can also try to get your medication from another country like Canada, or Mexico. One time, in college I had a roommate, whose family lived in New Mexico near the border, pick me up some Mexican insulin while they were there. It still wasn’t cheap, but it was a lot cheaper than buying it at full price in the U.S. ($35 for a bottle of insulin, compared to $80). It was probably illegal, and I’m not promoting this as a viable, sustainable option. But, it was what I had to do at the time to literally keep myself alive, so I’m not ashamed to say I did it. God bless that Mexican insulin!
I think the best option is to use a Prescription Assistance Program. Most drug companies have “Patient Assistance Programs” that will supply you with free medication if you can’t afford it. You have to fill out a bunch of forms, send them proof of your income (usually in the form of your last tax-return), and have a prescription from your doctor written. Then you submit all that, and wait to see if they will approve you. If they approve you, you’ll get a letter, or a phone call, and they’ll start sending you your drugs. They will not, however, just deliver the medicine to your home. They deliver it to your doctor’s office, so you must pick it up there. It’s great that they have these programs, but they assume that people can actually afford to go see a doctor in the first place, to get them to write you a prescription. If you don’t have health insurance, it is expensive to see a doctor! So, these are good programs in theory, but it is hard to utilize them. I read an article somewhere (I can’t remember for the life of me where, now!) that the drug companies offer this service, because if they can retain customers on their specific brand of drug, even through that customer’s period where they are unable to pay for their medication, those customers will be more likely to continue to use their drug when they regain their ability to pay. So, don’t think the companies’ motives are totally altruistic here. They’ve done the math, and they know these kinds of program are good for their bottom line. I've used these programs A LOT, and every time I feeling like I'm selling my soul to the devil, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go through all the red-tape to save your own life in any way that you can.
In Conclusion: Put the Shame where the Shame Belongs!
If you are on a tight budget, help IS available, but it is often hidden well! If you need help navigating the system, please contact your states’ health insurance office. If you are using the facilities of hospital system, they often have medical social workers who are skilled in navigating these difficult financial situations and getting you in touch with the resources you need, so please ask to speak to one of them!
Above all, if you face financial hardships because of medical costs, DO NOT BE ASHAMED! Hundreds of thousands of Americans go into medical bankruptcy every year, so you are not alone out there. Let’s place the SHAME WHERE IT BELONGS, back on the companies and systems that charge exorbitant prices in the first place.
So please, spread the word about these resources to everyone who might need them!