The most important date this year for some is the Presidential election in November. For me, it’s September 2nd, or the day I turn 26 and lose my healthcare coverage.
Let me start by saying I have been enormously privileged to have healthcare thus far. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and even in her retirement I was covered under her policy. I recognize that in our current healthcare system, and with our nation’s attitude toward those who are dependent on appointments and medications I have been gifted. I basically won the healthcare lottery.
My first insurance scare happened in the summer of 2019.
For some reason unknown to me (and my psychiatrist) a medication I had been on for a year at the time, Guanficine, stopped being made.
For a little backstory, I had trouble sleeping at night from the age of 14 until I was properly diagnosed at 23 with PTSD. Not just tossing and turning, but paralyzed by fear, heart pounding, eyes wide open, staring at my bedroom door, sure that this was the night that a home invasion or some other terrible event would occur. For years, I thought I was scared of the dark. It turns out that PTSD will do this kind of thing for you. So I was prescribed Guanficine, which helps my brain calm down, stop searching for threats, and allowed me to rest.
They continued to produce the extended release medication, which my psychiatrist then prescribed for me. Here’s the kicker: my insurance covered the regular release, but not the extended release. Further, since this medication is normally used to treat blood pressure issues, and not PTSD (which is what I was taking it for), my insurance company wouldn’t listen to my doctor when he said I needed this medication.
My psychiatrist continued working with me to find a fix, and I could feel my old brain patterns coming back. I was spiraling, isolating myself, and not sleeping even when I skipped work and social gatherings because I was too tired. We tried everything: shopping pharmacies, signing up for medication discount programs (I even had a GoodRX paid membership). But still, the medication was $1,200 out of pocket for my usual 3 month supply. I couldn’t even afford $400 for 1 month. All this time, I was still paying for monthly psychiatrist appointments, therapists visits, and my three other daily medications.
It wasn’t until, for whatever reason, one day I tried to refill an old prescription for my usual Guanficine normal release 1 mg pill, that I found out they had started producing them again. Elated, I refilled it, paid my usual $21 and some change, and started taking it again.
But the problems of that summer without my medication were not immediately solved. In weekly talk therapy, I felt like I was back at square one. I was flinching when I would cross the street, sure this would be the time I would get hit by a car. I was irritable toward people at work and in my social life because I wasn’t getting enough sleep yet. Just 6 weeks off of ONE of my medications had undone a year’s work on depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms.
Now I’m faced with another insurance scare, only this time I can see it coming. But does that really make a difference for me?
I’m turning 26 in September and will no longer by covered by my mother’s insurance policy. Since I can see this one coming, I’ve worked with my psychiatrist and other healthcare providers to schedule necessary mental health and gynecological appointments before my birthday. I’ll see my psychiatrist another 3 times, with the last time being a week before I turn 26, giving me just enough time to get 3 months of prescriptions for through the end of the year. Unfortunately, I am on a lose dose of Clonazepam, a controlled substance that is only refilled one month at a time. This helps with my irritability, focus, and most importantly to me, my anxiety levels.
Without this medication, I find it difficult to go outside and participate in the world. I find it difficult to show up to work and school. I find it difficult to grocery shop. When I am without it, even for a day, I feel the effects. My face gets warm, my breathing feels constricted, and my bones feel like they are shaking. And that’s just when I’m home.
Jana, why don’t you get your own insurance? Or get a job that offers insurance benefits? Well, reader, I can’t afford to. I’m back in school, working 2 part-time jobs and mostly living off of student loans. And when untreated, my mental illnesses have been the reason that I found school and work so difficult in the past.
I have been doing my best within this healthcare system that I dared to be born into with mental disabilities. I am doing my best, which has been pretty damn great compared to many others’ stories, but my best isn’t going to cut it 6 months from now.
After that, I’m at the mercy of the pharmacological industry, the healthcare industry, and whatever the future leaders of the nation decide I should or should not have the right to.