I have a serious drug habit. I’ve had it for the past nine years and I am not able to quit it. No, I’m not breaking any laws by taking drugs nor am I robbing any bank or committing any crimes to get them. All I have to do is see my doctor regularly and get a prescription and I’m in business. Unfortunately for me and my wife, filling those prescriptions each month is costing a small fortune and puts a serious dent in our personal finances. On top of that, the problem of prescription costs only increases from year to year. But then again, what choice do I really have about it all? I need the drugs.
My Medical Condition Heads South
In case you don’t know all the details as to why I am in this situation, dependent on prescription drugs to maintain my health and prevent my deterioration any further, let me give you a brief medical history as to how I got myself into this mess.
In 2008 at the age 58, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I had had the symptoms for a while and I wasn’t very good about seeing a doctor regularly, but when I couldn’t avoid going any longer I finally did. The result of that visit got me started on my daily drug habit.
I had to begin what is basically a typical routine of several prescriptions for those who are diagnosed as an adult with diabetes.
The Treatment and Cost of My Diagnosis
First, I had to begin taking a pretty expensive pill called Januvia. It is sold only as a brand name item and no generic was available (nor is it today all these years later). The pill doses have varied over the years from 1 per day to as much as 2 per day and the cost initially was totally ridiculous (before I had the right medical plan and right drug coverage). I was facing a bill at that time of $200 per month just for Januvia alone. I was still working full time and covered by health insurance, but even that was also expensive (about $200 a month and that was nine years ago) and didn’t have a very good prescription plan attached.
Secondly, I was prescribed an insulin pen called Lantus with a daily dose of 10 units per day. The cost of 3 pens which lasts a month at that dosage was about $125. There was also the expense of needles each day, alcohol wipes, and a meter for testing your blood several times a day to see how much sugar you have in it.
Thirdly, I was prescribed a generic, Metformin, which I was to take twice a day. This fortunately was rather inexpensive and cost about $10 for a three-month supply. Those three prescriptions totaled a cost of over $600 a month when you include the insurance. This didn’t include the doctor’s fees or the deductibles but you get the idea. This was before I was eligible for Medicare and I couldn’t change my insurance company to a better plan because now I had a pre-existing condition! Thank goodness I was still working full time and earning money to help pay those bills. By the way, nine years later I am still taking all of these drugs and they have become more expensive.
Can Things Get Worse – You Bet They Can!
Being a diabetic, you quickly learn how serious it is and how it can affect almost every part of your body from head to toe. In early 2012, the unthinkable happened. I had a heart attack. It wasn’t the kind that you hear mostly about, like I was walking down the street and simply collapsed. It was much different.
I was doing some small task in the house when I felt weak and discomfort in my chest and had to sit down. I was short of breath and just felt awful. I thought if I just rested a bit I would feel better so I lay down for a while (actually hours went by) and I still felt awful. Since it was late at night, I decided to wait until the next day to see how I would feel and go to see my doctor.
The Next Day
I reluctantly went to the doctor (did I mention I hate going to a doctor at any time?) and she quickly told me to see a cardiologist as she suspected it was a heart problem. I had seen a cardiologist a few years earlier for some routine exam so I went right over to their offices and waited to see him as soon as he could see me.
Within the first five minutes of his exam, he said I needed to be immediately hospitalized and treated for what he suspected was a heart attack. That was really scary but I immediately went and was admitted. Think about how stupid I had been. I waited to see a doctor and could have died if anything had worsened right there at home. The next day I had a stent placed inside my artery to restore the blood flow and begin the treatment and recovery plan.
The Consequences of Neglect
Besides trying to lose weight, eat much healthier, and slowly rebuild myself to being mobile again, I had additional prescriptions to handle. Once again at age 61, I wasn’t yet on Medicare and had my lousy insurance plan to deal with only now with an additional five prescriptions.
As the time moved on, at age 62, I had to reduce my work schedule to part time. Eventually I retired fully at age 63. Now I was getting just my Social Security (at less than the full retirement rate would have been) and no Medicare coverage yet and the burden was getting even heavier.
Fighting Heart Disease is Very Expensive
My heart attack led to congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Blood thinners, cholesterol medications, and blood pressure meds were now all on the menu, as they still are to this day. Medications can change from time to time but the bottom line is I will have to take these drugs for the rest of my life. The cost of these additional medications added another $300 per month to my already crazy expenses. The average person’s medical expenses run about $10,000 per year, I was spending that back in 2012.
The average senior over age 65 spends even more than that because they usually aren’t as healthy. As a percentage of our household income, last year my wife and I (she also has serious medical problems and has been disabled for years) spent over 25% of our gross income on healthcare. A good year for us would be 20%, but even that is really not to be expected.
Think about that for a second. If your family has a gross income of $100,000 a year, what would your reaction be if you had to spend $20-$25,000 of it on medical expenses and insurance? I just feel fortunate that I’ve been able to afford my medication through careful management of my finances. Not everyone is as fortunate.
It Can Get Better with Some Effort
After my diagnosis and treatment for the heart attack, I did begin a regimen of eating healthy and losing weight (over 60 lbs.) with some light exercise. I even joined a gym to walk on the treadmill regularly. Amazingly, The American Heart Association held a walk here in NJ during October of 2014 and not only did I participate, but I received an award for having such good results and an inspiring story. But keeping the weight off and staying healthy is a struggle for me at this age. It’s a battle I have to wage every day and some days I lose and some days I win. If it were easy, everyone would be healthy I guess.
Why is This So Important to Know Right Now?
Healthcare is being talked about everyday these days, and all of us have to think about it and what it will be like tomorrow, a year from now, and beyond. If I know anything at all, I know that as you get older you will need healthcare more than ever and that it will never be cheap to obtain. Exact details, I don’t know, but I can assure you I now hear the words of the very famous baseball star Mickey Mantle when he said “If I had known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself”! He was an alcoholic and died at age 63.
That’s why I write a lot about good healthy habits and eating right, taking time to reduce stress and think positively each day. Now is the always the best time to do that.
I hope that my story will help you decide to pay more attention to your health than I did. I was like so many who just never did until it was a little too late to prevent all these problems.
What do you do to be healthy? Are you on prescription drugs regularly and does it damage your finances? How do you or will you deal with the high cost of future medical expenses?