As recession fears encroach upon many people’s lives, some of our most vulnerable members of the population such as the elderly have had to deal with real life money issues for quite some time. As with everything, monetary problems were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. I recently overheard an elderly man picking up his prescription at a local pharmacy tell the cashier, "You guys charge me whatever price you want each month." It dawned on me at that moment, he was absolutely correct! This individual was literally at the mercy of that particular pharmacy to obtain a life-saving drug.
The healthcare industry in total has become a money-making machine and has allowed for decisions to be made not based on health, but greed. CEOs are given large bonuses and salaries, while frontline workers are left to deal with the harsh realities of tending to the sick. We have seen this play out in today's society with health-care professionals such as nurses either fighting for fair pay and safer work conditions, or having to leave the profession altogether due to burn out. The disdainful treatment of our health care workers and pattern of marking up prices for life saving medications is a concern we all should care about.
When we start to put prices on health we undoubtedly run the risk of creating and furthering substantial inequalities in both treatment quality and access. It further enhances structural inequalities that have long been systemic barriers and contributors to declining healthy outcomes for people of color and marginalized communities such as our elderly population. Our elderly are often forgotten about and unlike other members of society, they often do not have the flexibility to seek additional income through work. Oftentimes they are maximizing their expenses and cutting items out just to pay for necessities.
Asking someone to choose between maintaining their health and paying for housing or food is not a fair assessment to ask someone to make. We have now positioned far too many to be at the mercy of big pharmaceuticals in order to maintain chronic diseases. A problem that has become so systemic it knows no boundaries whether a person is elderly or younger.
As long as there is money to be made, this will always be the driving force within the healthcare system. Unfortunately, this takes precedence even over achieving healthy outcomes. As a patient, healthcare providers or local health institutions should be assisting you in finding cost efficient ways to obtain your medication. This assistance may involve speaking with a social worker, patient advocate, or the medical professional prescribing the medication. Advocating for an alternative to paying high prices may be possible, however, unfortunately oftentimes you will have to start the discussion.
The bottom line is, no one should be left worried about how they will be able to afford life saving medications or have to choose whether or not they can fill that prescription. Your healthcare provider or team has to be part of that discussion, and should be able to assist you in navigating this real impediment, or at the very least, put you in touch with resources that can help lower your prescription costs.
Ultimately, this will take more discussions and action from our leadership to enact change. It will also take active participation from patients that require the medication. It is imperative that you become an advocate and demand better and more affordable options. A person should not have to choose between supporting their quality of life and being able to buy their medication. Our elderly should definitely not have to worry about medication expenses after having worked in most instances over thirty years. We should challenge ourselves to advocate for a loved one, neighbor, or someone from our community who is in need so that affordable medication and life saving treatment can be available to all.