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Sandi’s nightmare: Choosing between bills and pills

The scariest thing about Sandi’s story is that she is nowhere near alone

It's the subject no one wants to confront.

Pride keeps many of us from talking about it, but those of us who live on Social Security, either retirement or disability, often find ourselves making decisions on what bills get paid this month, and more problematic to those of us with chronic illnesses, which pills to buy.

Glib professionals tell people like us that "there's always help."

I'm not finding it.

I'm lucky enough to have affordable insurance and a small long-term disability check, but the day my Social Security check hits the bank, the worrying starts and doesn't stop until the next check arrives.

I pay for the things that are necessary: electricity, natural gas, water and garbage service, cable (TV, Internet, landline), cell phone (dumbest smart phone on the market), health and car insurance. What's left over has to cover food, all my drugs, the co-pays to the doctors I have to see to get those prescriptions, gas for the car, food for my pets.

It's then the real praying starts.

Please let the car keep running. Please keep the pets healthy. Please no emergencies.

I have a stack of overdue bills from labs and hospitals for tests that were necessary. My insurance has paid what it will, but I can't afford to pony up the difference. I don't answer phone numbers I don't recognize because 99 percent of them are business offices or collection agencies and they can bully me all they want, there's no extra money to shut them up.

The money runs out anyway and it's time to line the bottles up and decide which medicines I can take every other day, which ones I can live without and how to survive on those decisions.

Of course, there are those prescriptions that get filled no matter what, the ones you literally cannot live without.

If you have insurance, it's hard to get drug companies or pharmacies to give you the bigger discounts they so magnanimously offer on their commercials, and heaven forbid your doctor adds new drugs to your regime because you've got to at least try those.

The first month or so the doctor might have samples to give you, but after that, it's one more drug that goes in the line. And generally, the new drugs I get are new on the market and are the most expensive.

Most months I manage to afford all my meds because I've been working odd jobs here and there but I can't work too much or I'll get sicker and need more drugs, and again, there's that pesky cap on what I can make because I am on Social Security disability.

Then there are the months when the gas tank is on empty, the cupboards are bare, and there are no drugs in most bottles and it's 10 days until monetarily relief arrives.

Add ulcer medication (wait, I'm already on that).

My husband and I have sold our books, movies, music, and games and no blood bank in America will stick a needle in either of our arms.

In the summer, we stay at home a lot, shades pulled, trying not to move much to keep the air conditioning from coming on. In the winter we bury ourselves under blankets and try to stay warm.

Did I mention I make $30 too much to qualify for food stamps?

We don't go out unless the event is free, and presents for special occasions stopped years ago. Our Christmas tree is a foot-tall metal spiral bought half -price at a discount store years ago.

We own our home so we don't qualify for any aid for it. And while downsizing sounds like a plan, selling this house won't get us enough money to buy another house anywhere and our credit is so poor we'll never qualify for a mortgage. We can't make improvements because first we can't afford them and second, we are both too disabled to do any of them. We're not even sure how we could even move into another house if by some miracle we got a smaller one.

We're already on bill averaging with all the utilities and shop at the cheapest stores in town.

The scariest thing about this story is we are nowhere near alone.

Millions of us are out here, playing medical roulette, slipped neatly between the cracks of those who have enough money and those who can get help from the government and charities.

We get by. We don't have a choice, but the slightest thing will send us over the edge. When it rains I worry about flooding or severe weather damaging the house because we gave up our house insurance years ago.

Our car is insured because it's the only car we have and it's the law. We don't want to consider what will happen when it breaks down.

It's a terrible thing to be told to avoid stress and have nothing else but that in your life. It eats into everything you do, weighs on your shoulders affects every relationship.

Yes, there are people worse off that we are, and like us, they sit in their homes and pray they can make it until the next check.

I'm sure most people who know me and read this will be shocked at some of this, but if you are familiar with this predicament, you aren't able to talk about it without crying from shame that you have somehow failed.

I have to hope that things will get better soon, but there are days I don't see how.

 

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