Mental Health’s Hostage Situation in the US

apothecary-pharmacy-chemist-mortar-and-pestle-39522.jpegYes, you read that right. I fully believe that those who struggle with mental health issues in the United States are held hostage by the United States. We are told that people want to do more to help us, yet the tools and options to do it are so far out of our reach, that many of us wander around untreated or left self-medicating ourselves.

Why do I say this? It is in the cost of healthcare in the United States.

First, let me give you my own experience, then I will give you the bigger picture.

I work in an industry that pays pretty well and usually offers decent benefits, but not always. In 2015, I took a new position that offered a higher salary with fully paid benefits. During the hiring process, I was never shown what the benefits would look like. I was only told that they would be fully paid.

When I sat down with the benefits administrator, I literally cried. You see, as someone who is has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder 1, my prescription drug cocktail has been tweaked over the years to ensure my mental stability. I had not really considered the costs of my medications over the years, due to the fact that the type of coverage I had enjoyed over the years had protected me from their impact.

That was about to change.

One of the drugs I had been prescribed and had been a game changer in my maintaining mental stability was Abilify, a product of Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. At the time, the drug’s patent was still in place, so there was not generic option, and it was considered a formulary with a higher premium with my copay on my previous policy. Without insurance, the drug’s actual cost was over $1500. When the patent expired, the price only went down $300.

My new employer was following the newest trend in health care coverage options: HSA, or health savings accounts. These types of accounts are usually known as high deductible accounts where the insured is required to take on a higher burden with the coverage. Most insureds are then encouraged, or required, to also carry HSA accounts, where they deposit up to a government determined maximum amount each year to cover those deductibles that is tax deductible, or pre-tax from pay by employers. The problem is, that at times, the maximum set is still less than those deductibles, and the amount in those accounts is accrued and doesn’t meet the needs of the insured.

In my situation, the latter was the issue. In fact, I wound up having to file for bankruptcy thanks to my new health coverage, and the stigma, stress, heartache, and embarrassment of having to do such a thing literally led me to being hospitalized in the mental health ward of a local hospital. Adding more to the cost of my healthcare.

Since that time, I’ve been on a roller coaster ride with my medications, trying to find the right mix that won’t bankrupt me, again. And this is not an easy task. One drug I was put on, Latuda, was even more expensive at over $2000, but my health coverage at the time was easier to handle the costs; however, due to an allergic reaction to the drug, I was forced to change medications once again, but the drug I was placed on was an older drug, with a much lower price.

This past year, I found myself having to take a sabbatical from work, and that meant that the cost of my health care fell solely on my shoulders. What I found that without the shield of employer funded health care, I could no longer afford take care of myself. I had to let my insurance lapse. One of my drugs, Prazosin, which is used to curtail PTSD related nightmares, was so expensive that I had to discontinue taking it. When I began the withdrawal process, the results were less than pleasing. Luckily, my other drugs were old enough that the costs were not too much of a burden, and I could continue them.

But that is not always the case.

I had one friend, who makes a decent living, has two children, owns a modest home, in a nice neighborhood, in a city known for being one of the lower cost of living areas. Her health insurance marketplace costs were more than double her mortgage, with the deductible and out of pocket costs being more than $10,000 for the year.

I had a family member who’s employer supported health care coverage provided a deductible and out of pocket expenses were more than two thirds of their annual salary.

I spoke with a group of individuals who struggle with bipolar disorder, and more than three quarters of them could not afford their health coverage, let alone the needed medical care or medications to help maintain their mental stability. Many of those having to resort to other means to help maintain a sense or normality.

There are many drug companies that do offer discount programs for patients, but many times they are not enough. Plus, when a drug goes generic, discount programs are no longer able to help. Especially when insurance programs require pharmacies to fill prescriptions with generics only.

In speaking with those outside of the US, the costs of prescriptions is much lower. And the question is why? Even basic medical needs is much lower. And I am not talking about were there is socialized medicine. The United States boasts the highest costs when it comes to health care, and it also boasts the largest lobbying power than any other nation.

Why is that? I don’t believe that those who run the show really care about those of us who have a mental illness. I actually think they are more worried about their bottom line and lining their pockets. I think they are looking at the showroom floor at the dealership, or their interior designer’s look-book, rather than the statistics related to the truths about the true crisis in the United States.

When there are people crying out for help who are struggling with mental health issues going ignored, there is an issue. A huge issue. Because this presents a much higher risk than what everyone wants to acknowledge.

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