Splitting Their Pills to Stretch Dollars; A Struggling Economy Leaves Some Struggling to Afford Health Care

By Cox, Jeremy | The Florida Times Union, October 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

Splitting Their Pills to Stretch Dollars; A Struggling Economy Leaves Some Struggling to Afford Health Care


Cox, Jeremy, The Florida Times Union


Byline: JEREMY COX

Diagnosed with high blood pressure in March, Pam Pringle told her doctor she wanted to wait a few months to see whether her hypertension would go away without treatment.

Her husband was losing his job as a fraud analyst with Citibank, leaving the family without health insurance. And the 43-year-old Northside woman worried that a bad mark on her medical records would disqualify them from all but the most expensive health plans.

Such is life for a growing number of First Coast residents. With the economy on life support, they are skimping on medicines and doctor visits to help make ends meet -- a practice that physicians warn could make them sicker and lead to heftier medical bills in the long run.

In Pringle's case, that warning was prophetic.

By June, the hair salon owner was suffering from debilitating headaches and dizzy spells. She finally went to the doctor that month and was prescribed medication to lower her blood pressure. The pills are covered by the family of four's new insurance plan, which scours a $600 hole in their monthly budget.

WHAT THEY'RE CUTTING

Across the country and on the First Coast, evidence is starting to trickle in that shows people are postponing medical care:

-- Nearly half of the people in a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released last week said a family member had skipped pills or avoided treatment during the past year because of the cost of care.

-- About one in four Americans are cutting back on doctor visits, and about one in 10 are reducing the number of prescription drugs they take or are splitting pills because of the economy, according to a survey this summer by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

-- In the Jacksonville metropolitan area, where the jobless rate hovers around 6 percent, the newly unemployed are turning to government-subsidized health insurance for assistance. Duval County's Medicaid rolls grew about 6 percent from August 2007 to this past August; Clay County's grew by 8 percent during the same period.

-- At Volunteers in Medicine, a clinic for the working poor in downtown Jacksonville, the average wait for new patients to see a doctor has grown from two weeks in the spring to five weeks now, business administrator Jeff Matthews said. While better advertising and other factors may be driving the increase in demand, the economic crunch is a major contributor, he said.

For the first time in its five-year history, the nonprofit is dipping into its reserve funds.

"We're pretty desperate for some operating funds," Matthews said. "It's not like we have a year's worth of reserves. We've only got four or five months' worth."

THE SICK GET SICKER

Out of work since December, Petfauna Czaplicki, 43, said she can't afford to see a doctor. That means she can't get several prescriptions refilled. …

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