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Editorials

The cost of a kid's medication

Lori Falce
| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, 4:33 p.m.

The first time I went to the pharmacy with my new insurance, I held my breath and stiffened. I looked away and braced myself the same way I do when I get blood work or a flu shot. It was going to hurt.

“That will be $35.”

What? Oh, no. It was mixed up. Now it was going to take forever to straighten it out. I started to explain that the total had to be wrong.

The woman at the counter checked her screen and shook her head. No, that was the right amount. I felt like I’d gotten away with something. It was like I ordered a pizza and they delivered lobster. A lot of lobster.

For two years, I had prepared for the jaw-punch of my son’s prescription prices. His asthma meds were just $75, which was candy and flowers compared to the $280 for one of his ADHD drugs. Altogether, his monthly bill was about $400.

I am not the only one who has gotten used to wincing at the totals.

Last month, AARP state director Bill Johnston-Walsh wrote in the Morning Call that drugs used by older Americans had ballooned by four times the inflation rate in 2017, with one chronic condition med going up by $1,000.

“If these trends continue, older adults —particularly those on fixed incomes — will be unable to afford their prescription drugs, leading to poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs in the future,” he wrote.

And that’s awful. But seniors aren’t the only ones making dangerous choices when it comes to their prescriptions.

More and more Americans are relying on prescription medication, and they are getting younger. A 2015 Journal of the American Medical Association study showed 3 in 5 Americans 20 and older taking prescription drugs. A 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics paper cites almost 20 percent of kids taking at least one prescription, with 7 percent of those acute medications.

The person at the counter weighing whether the cost is too high might not be a senior. It might be a mom, and she might be deciding if she really, really needs to refill that asthma inhaler this month, or wondering if she could forgo her own pills so she can buy the ones for her kid.

When I grew used to blanching at my son’s prescription costs, I wasn’t unemployed and I wasn’t uninsured. I had a good job with a publicly traded company. I had an HSA to take up some of the slack. I had savings for when that ran out. I can’t imagine standing there if I was making minimum wage with nothing backing me up.

Well, actually, I can. I stood at the same counter, making the same choices for my husband ten years ago. We would decide how many vials of insulin he absolutely needed and how long they would last, and weigh them against his heart medication and his blood pressure pills.

It took two years of that before his disability was approved. He died five years later.

I don’t know if I’m the only person who has ever cried at the Rite-Aid counter, or if I’m the only one who was doing it out of relief, like a release valve for all that built-up pressure of waiting for bad news. I do know that I have a better appreciation for the differences between insurance plans than I did a year ago.

Lori Falce is the Tribune-Review Community Engagement Editor. You can contact Lori at lfalce@tribweb.com.

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