The Cost to Breathe

I’m not usually one to complain, at least I try not to be. But a few nights ago I had a conversation with my mom that we’ve had more than once, and every time I’m left with a wall of tears begging to be released from behind my eyes. You see, a few years ago I was diagnosed with asthma. The first year and a half felt like a constant battle to figure out how to stop the attacks and what combination of medications would be the solution.

After losing the first fifty pounds and getting a decent plan put in place with my doctor, I was starting to feel almost normal again. I could run across the house to retrieve a forgotten item without reaching for air. I was no longer afraid of single flights of stairs. But now I’m afraid to lose that so simple yet so vital luxury that is breathing. Not because I’m sick or because my lungs are getting any worse (at least not that I know of.) It’s because I’ve run out of the two preventative inhalers that are so key in my asthma plan, and for the last few months I’ve been relying on my rescue inhaler. The reason for this? Even though I have health insurance, I can’t afford the preventative inhalers even though I know I need them. And a few nights ago, after coughing and searching for something more than a half-breath, I reached for my inhaler, and my stomach turned to knots as I realized that this inhaler, my last rescue inhaler, was almost empty.

Did you know that Albuterol, an asthma medication that has been around for nearly 50 years, can cost anything between $50 and $100 in the U.S., even though it used to cost $15 before it was repatented? So you can imagine my shock when I was told that I only had to pay £7 (roughly $12) for one inhaler when I was in England, and that was with no prescription coverage on my health insurance at the time. I was sure there had to have been some kind of mistake. But there wasn’t. The prices of asthma medications in the U.S. are on the rise, as reported in this New York Time’s article last October, and the result is no less than terrifying.

I can deal with being a bit more out of breath than usual, but what happens if I have an asthma attack? The thought of ER trips, nebulizer treatments, and constant doses of prednisone (the steroid from hell), flood my thoughts as my lungs grow more tired. Conversations with my mom – her telling me I need to be on my other inhalers, me protesting that we can’t afford them – are sure to become more frequent. The result of the last conversation ended in my mom ordering my inhalers, me promising I’d pay her back.

I’ll be okay. Eventually I’ll be able to afford my meds. But what about that kid whose parents can’t scrape together the money to pay for his inhaler? What about the high school student who just wants to play soccer but can’t because her parents aren’t sure if they can foot the ER bill if she has an asthma attack? I don’t know enough about the politics of health care so I won’t get into that right now, but I do want to say that it’s important. Breathing is kind of important. And it’s not okay that some people simply refuse to see a doctor because they’re more afraid of a crippling medical bill than the possible consequences of not being treated at all. I know that a free-for-all health care isn’t the answer, but I also know that it’s not okay that drugs that have been around for decades and cost next-to-nothing to manufacture are being sold for more than they are worth, simply because a company decided they wanted to make a bigger profit.

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