By Maria MacDougal, College Access Counselor at FAME, one of Maine Jump$tart’s foundational partners and sponsors. Reposted with permission from Munchies, Money, and Mumblings.
The cost of getting sick. Fair warning, I’m going to talk about both vaccines (do it, duh) and health care/insurance, and you may or may not agree with me. I try to shy away from politics in this blog, but the reality is, health care is inherently political. So, if you’re not interested in that, skip this post and come back next time. Just shy of two weeks ago, I worked a very long Thursday; usually Thursdays are the day my team is in the office and generally, the day is packed with meetings. At the end of the day I was pretty wiped, but as I drove home I didn’t think anything of it. Cut to after dinner, when I started to have a headache and my chest felt sort of heavy. It was that “oh no” moment when you realize this is beyond just normal tired. The next day we had a very important meeting scheduled, and when I woke up, I knew I was screwed. I felt feverish, exhausted, weak, and shivery. I slogged through the meeting, getting progressively worse as the day went on. It was like fine to definitely-not-fine in what felt like just a few hours.
Y’all, I had a flu shot in October. I make that a priority each year (and you should too). In years past, it has protected me from the flu, but this was not one of those years. I suspected this was not an ordinary cold, and made sure we made a pit-stop at Urgent Care on the way home from our meeting. And this is where we begin, my friends. I am a person with health insurance, paid for by my employer. It is not lost on me how lucky this makes me. Because I have insurance, my flu shot was free. It had been a while since I went to Urgent Care, so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect cost-wise (I’ve yet to see a bill, but time will tell). At triage, I paid my $20 copay on the spot, which made them give me a tiny discount, where I paid $18 total. I made it through surprisingly quickly. I had a fever. The rapid strep test came back negative, and, oddly enough, so did the flu test. The doctor says that’s common; there are a lot of false negatives because there are lots of strains of the flu. He said based on the sudden onset of symptoms that all spelled flu, he suspected it was that. I left with a prescription for Tamiflu, fluids, and rest. The Tamiflu was $10 (copay).
Now, this was not the only illness related purchase; I also had to manage symptoms so as not to feel like death warmed over 24/7. I opted for Mucinex products because I was definitely coughing up green stuff (you’re welcome). Cold and flu remedies are not covered by insurance; if you are lucky enough to have and/or are participating in a HSA, you can get reimbursed. Again, this generally requires employment that provides such resources (mine does, but like a dumbdumb I don’t participate. I may change that in the future). It’s very hard to get a supply of cold meds that will last for less than $10. And Mucinex? That shit is the caviar of cold medicine. Between the daytime and night time meds during the 5ish days I was sick, I think I spent probably $45. I started to feel slightly better day 5, but had to restock Mucinex, because this cough would not quit. I got the package pictured at the Dollar General and it was still $12. How on EARTH?
But wait, there’s more! Yesterday was day 10 with a cough. It was impacting my sleep, my lungs felt terrible, and I was short of breath. The last time this happened, about 7 years ago, I had the same post-flu symptoms and my lungs were messed up for weeks and I ended up with inhalers. Suspecting this was the case again, I made an appointment to see my doctor for a sick visit. I arrived to a PACKED waiting room, with a sea of people that looked like me (masks on, tired faces) and waited way too long to be seen, finally. She confirmed my suspicions; no bronchitis or likely infection, but definitely post-flu inflammation. I explained that this had happened before and the inhalers I had and she said that’s the best way to resolve it, along with Flonase to manage the post-nasal drip. I left with a prescription for the two inhalers.
Now, at this time, Kilton has also come down with a cold, and I have rid the house of meds, so I went to the pharmacy planning to pick up more in addition to my prescriptions. I had a coupon (guys, it’s a thing) for $3 off CVS brand cold medicine, so at least I had that going for me. With the cold meds, the cost of the cheapest/lowest dose of Flonase, plus the copays for my two inhalers, I paid a whopping $75! The copays on the inhalers were $10 and $30; and I shudder to think of what would happen if I had had to pay full price. 27.5 MILLION people are uninsured. How is this even allowed? We live in a country where type-1 diabetics die from rationing insulin because it’s so damn expensive. Where people don’t get preventative care because of the bills; a place where people don’t call 911 for emergencies for fear of an outrageous ambulance bill. I understand how incredibly fortunate we are to have employer-sponsored health insurance, but even with that, I still shelled out hard earned money for what it didn’t cover. And I haven’t received any bills yet; we’ll see what happens.
The system is broken, and it needs a fix. Believe me when I tell you:
I. Would. Pay. Higher. Taxes. If. It. Meant. Universal. Healthcare. Full stop. Countries like Sweden and the Netherlands pay very high taxes, but they have universal healthcare, paid sick leave, and education, and are consistently rated among the happiest countries on Earth. This is not a coincidence. I don’t mind if my hard earned money goes toward helping others, no matter how sick or healthy. Part of my responsibility as a goddamn human is to be good to all the other humans (which is also why vaccines are important; go ahead and fight me). Healthy citizens can go to work, can contribute to the economy. If a family isn’t drowning in medical bills, they can spend money on other things. Imagine that! The pharmaceutical industry has a choke-hold on our government, which is insane. The pharmaceutical industry topped $370 BILLION in 2019. With a “B.” In other words, a bunch of rich people getting richer. Something has to be done.
*Slowly steps off of soap box
Okay, I really had to get that off my chest. This bout with the flu has reminded me how lucky I am that I have both the insurance, income, and paid time off that allows me to recover. It is not lost on me, and I’ll be bringing it with me to the polls. It’s an election year, my friends. I urge you to keep health care in mind was you cast your votes. Also, please vaccinate your kids, get a flu shot, wash your hands a lot, and stay home from work if you’re sick. I’ll make you soup and deliver tissues and create an epic binge-watching list for you. Just say the word.
Most importantly, be well.
The views, information, or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect those of the Maine Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.