Choosing Between Food and Medicine


This is something that has been on my mind for some time. I am one of the millions of Americans that has to deal with the problem of not being able to afford some of my medicines.

I’ve spoken with several other people who are struggling with this also. But what really made me want to write this article was a young woman I spoke with. She is a single parent receiving Supplemental Security Income with a kidney problem. She just started to take dialysis and needs this particular medicine before she starts her dialysis treatment. The medicine is needed to make her numb before treatment. She has Medicaid but it does not cover this medicine, or so she was told.

After Medicaid told her they would not cover the medicine, she called the pharmacy back and was told Medicaid would pay for the medicine but it would take 72 hours because it had to be approved by the State.

She is young and this crisis occurred in the middle of the month, after she had spent all of her monthly check. She needed this medicine by Monday and I spoke to her on Friday evening. As we all know, all state agencies are closed on the weekend.

So she had to borrow the $85 for the medicine with the promise that she would be able to pay it back in 72 hours. As it turned out, after waiting the first 72 hours, she still hadn’t received approval from the state. So we contacted her doctor and after another six days of waiting, only then came a positive reply. But even with that positive reply, she was told that when the prescription needs to be renewed, she would have to go through the same channels.

We spoke to an attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation. The attorney got this woman some help so she would not have to wait for state approval. Now she has a year before having to get the run-around again.

But why should people have this extra worry added along to worrying about their illness?

Here is another example of how many people have to choose between eating or buying medicine. I know a person with disabilities who lives in a Chicago Housing Authority senior building. He has a medical problem that has to be treated daily. He is living from a fixed monthly income of $777 and has been told that his income is too high for the Medicaid eligibility until he meets a deductible each month. One of the medicines he needs won’t be covered until he is 65 years old and its cost is over $200.

These are not the only people that are facing this problem. I myself was just issued a letter stating that any of my medicines which cost more than $55 will no longer be covered by Medicaid until they go through some of their own procedures.

I need all my medicines daily and there is no way I can afford to pay for all the medication that I have to take. I can go to Cook County Hospital but I have had a hard time with them because the generic medicine they issue there doesn’t have the same effect as the brand-name medicine.

That’s a reason that I don’t want to deal with Cook County Hospital but others have even greater difficulties. Seniors suffer greatly when they have to sit alone for the long hours that everyone has to wait in Cook County Hospital – not just in the emergency room but in the pharmacy, where everyone has to wait many hours for medicine.

One parent I know just took on a foster child. When she first got the child, she didn’t have all of his medical records and didn’t even have his medical card. So she had this child and he had a breathing disorder. They went to Cook County Hospital not because they had to but because that was the only place they could get the medicine without paying right away. Any private hospital would have treated the child but she would have had to pay for the prescription.

She said she would like to see a place in the community where if there is an error or some one loses their medical card, she could have called a direct 24-hour emergency hotline to help people with their medication.

Some people need state approval on the weekend. It just doesn’t seem fair that our government can’t help everyone. I would like to know where help will come from and when.

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