The Drug Habit I Just Can’t Kick

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.

Prescription costs can take a huge bite out of your budget. This is just one reason why it's important to take care of your health before there's a problem.

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

Prescription costs can take a huge bite out of your budget. This is just one reason why it's important to take care of your health before there's a problem.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?

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A Spoonful of Savings Helps the Medicine Go Down
Heart Health: Invest in Living
Pill Splitting Do’s and Don’ts to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

Disease Called Debt

About Gary Weiner @ Super Saving Tips

Over the last 45 years I’ve worked in retail (department stores and supermarkets) and financial planning. In addition, I am a shopper, born and bred, who enjoys the challenges of finding the best items for the best prices. When I’m not busy saving money or writing here at Super Saving Tips, I enjoy baseball, music, and classic movies. I am retired and live in New Jersey with my wife.

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22 Comments

  1. Gary, thanks for sharing. I might suggest a book if you haven’t read it could “Wheat Belly” The background and information have helped many diabetics. Good luck with your health habits. I know it can be tough. My dad had a heart attack which led to congestive heart failure and eventually caused his death. I witnessed his struggle to eat healthy and exercise over the years. It’s a daily battle. I’m rooting for you.
    Brian recently posted…It’s Okay to be Afraid about Your MoneyMy Profile

  2. Aw Gary. Sorry you have these conditions but I’m glad you’re willing to talk about them. Future health care costs are frightening for pretty much everyone to think about, even when you don’t have to deal with a chronic condition, and doubly concerning for those who do.

    I admit I don’t pay as much attention to healthy habits as I should. Thanks to Jon, I probably watch my blood sugar and heart rates more than I would on my own (he has monitors for both that he uses all the time. He occasionally talks me into using them.) So far, he’s used diet and exercise to stave off prescriptions for everything but reflux. And I haven’t needed them so far, but I know my habits and weight raise my risks.
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe recently posted…Thinking the Worst: Emergency Planning or Fighting the Last War?My Profile

    • I appreciate your comments, Emily. Even if you are not 100% on top of your potential health issues, you obviously have a loving partner who will do that with you and that means a lot. It’s encouraging that your husband has been able to avoid medications by his healthy habits. Maybe the two of you can do some exercises together and make it a fun experience. My wife and I have taken some exercise and specifically walking together to try to improve our conditions and it does help.

  3. Thanks for sharing Gary – sorry to hear about your challenges. Tough (and scary) stuff for sure!

    I’ll 2nd the Wheat Belly book. Another good resource is It Starts With Food (related to the Whole30 program). My mother-in-law took action based on these resources and has not only lost weight, but cut way back on her medicines (doctor suggested). Not the same situation as you, but still, interesting progress from dietary changes.

    “What do you do to be healthy?”

    I was on cholesterol and blood pressure medicine 8 years ago. It was just after my father had passed away and I wasn’t taking care of myself at all. When I started having bad side effects from the medicines the doctor told me I needed to lose weight and exercise. I buckled down, lost over 40 pounds, and started jogging. After months of hard work I was able to get off the medicines and stay off. My blood pressure is still occasionally high, but not “get-to-a-doctor-right-away” high like it was.

    “How do you or will you deal with the high cost of future medical expenses?”

    Staying as healthy as I can now is the main part of the plan. I haven’t been able to run for about a year because of an injury but I just got new shoes and plan to ease back into it. Been walking a couple miles each day and soon plan to start working into a jog. Hopefully by year end will be able to run.

    PS: Are you able to take advantage of any subsidized pricing on health insurance? With just an SS income, it seems you should get some help there – and find a better plan to help with the med costs.
    Brad – MaximizeYourMoney.com recently posted…Don’t Make These 401k MistakesMy Profile

    • First, Brad, thank you so much for sharing your experience and good results. Now that I’ve passed 65, I am on Medicare which has allowed me to reduce the cost of my insurance compared to previously. Since my wife and I are both on Social Security, the only other income I have is using my retirement funds, so it still is a financial burden. I am hoping that I can do a better job with my diet and exercise so that I can eliminate some of my medications, but that hasn’t happened as of yet.

  4. Diabetes sucks. My grandmother loved with it for decades, and I saw firsthand the inconvenience and associated health problems.

    Her struggles are one of the reasons I’m so health conscious today. That said, it’s always a struggle. With two little boys ravaging my sleep patterns the last 3 years I’ve fallen into bad habits myself and put on significant weight.

    I’m looking forward to getting back on track now that they’re settling down a bit. It’s going to be a long uphill climb, but well worth it!

    Keep up the good fight, Gary!
    Jack recently posted…4 Simple Ways To Save Money Buying Your Wedding RingMy Profile

    • If anything good comes out of sharing my story, and it motivates anyone to take better care of themselves, that will be a reward to me. Your sleep patterns are so important to good health, and although I didn’t write about it, I have trouble sleeping a lot of the time, which of course makes me less energetic and less able to exercise. So I’m glad that you’re trying to correct that, and I really appreciate your comments, Jack.

  5. Gary I’m very sorry for all of your struggles. I think it’s wonderful that you’re sharing your stories so that others can choose now to take steps towards better physical health. I have three friends who have either been told by their doctors that they are pre-diabetic or they’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, and I just have to keep my mouth shut when they continue to indulge in desserts. Old habits really do die hard. I really don’t think it would be wise for me to say anything. I’m sure they’ve heard it all before. That’s wonderful that you’ve turned things around to the extent that you have. 60 pounds is no small deal! I’m glad you’re in a position to manage things financially. All the best for your health – both physical and financial – in the years to come.
    Prudence Debtfree recently posted…September 2017: PF Mistakes & The Battle vs. Shame/JudgmentMy Profile

    • Thank you so much, Ruth, for your good wishes. When you get diagnosed as pre-diabetic, with effort you can actually reverse it and that should encourage anyone who’s in that situation. Unfortunately, when it advances and starts to affect so many of your internal organs, literally almost every one, the best outcome is to stop it from advancement but it will be a condition to deal with for the rest of your life. Believe me, I don’t wish that on anyone. I do appreciate so many sympathetic wishes, but what I hope will happen is that people really think about their health more conscientiously so they won’t have to suffer in any way.

  6. Even though you’ve been dealt some bad cards, you’ve taken giant steps to improve your health. I admire you for that.

    The entire healthcare model we’re under is questionable. We really need to learn at a young age what’s involved in being healthy because doctors mainly know how to fix things (or try to, anyway).

    I second the Mark’s Daily Apple recommendation. The guy is awesome.
    Mrs. Groovy recently posted…Can Spatial Arbitrage Substitute for Geoarbitrage?My Profile

    • I feel encouraged by the recommendations which I think can help. Our eating habits start as children and become such a part of us that it is really difficult to change when you’re older. The “if you behave yourself, you can have a cookie” verbage is something I grew up with and for some reason, I’m still looking for that cookie, or 12. Thanks, Mrs. Groovy, for your good wishes.

  7. There’s a good reason to stay healthy right there— it’s expensive to be sick. Shouldn’t be like that but it is.

    The last few years I’ve struggled with back and joint pain. The joints seem to get worse and worse but all the tests are always normal. It’s scary thinking about being in pain and not being able to pay for the treatments.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us Gary I feel better that I’m not alone.

    • As we age, we certainly do wind up with aches and pains and that is something that I deal with as well. The diabetes, in many cases, does not cause pain until it has advanced, and actually it’s the lack of pain with the neuropathy that becomes dangerous. I have had several occasions where I have cut my foot and not realized it until I saw blood.

      For your pain, it’s good that you’re checking with the doctor. My wife has back and joint pain and finds some supplements like glucosamine chondroitin (available over the counter) to help, but your results may vary. I hope you find something that helps. Thanks, Elsie, for your comments.

  8. I’m so glad you finally went in and everything is better now. I believe the most important thing is our health in life. It can get expensive but like you say it’s worth it!

  9. Thank you for sharing this, Gary, and I’m sorry it’s taken such a large financial burden. It’s so counterintuitive; we know stress exacerbates health problems, yet we’re okay collectively placing extreme financial stress on our ill. I think your story is an important one.

    I don’t know if this is even helpful at all now, but have you looked into financial assistance programs from the drug companies themselves? Sometimes they offer them for a reduced price or even free for a set amount of months depending on your income.
    Femme Frugality recently posted…Getting Control of Your Money is a CinchMy Profile

    • Thanks, FF, for your comments. Once you’re on Medicare like I am now, you usually do not qualify for assistance from the drug companies. There are other options based on income, here in NJ and I think elsewhere, for financial aid. At this point, I don’t qualify, but it’s definitely something others should look into.

  10. I’ve been feeling the pull to get up and get more active lately. This blogger bod thing is for the birds! I’ll keep your story in mind as better inspiration. I agree, it’s important to take care of your health, because we are in control of our diet and exercise, and doing that is much preferable to paying for medications.

    • Jamie, with 5 kids in the house, it seems like you’d be getting all the activity you can use! But I do understand when you’re sitting in front of the computer doing your blog thing, you’re not getting any extra workout. I’m definitely in that boat. It takes a real concentrated effort to be active and stay healthy and hopefully both of us will be reaching that goal.

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