Running Errands: Looking for Plan B

There is, to my knowledge, only one video on youtube that I’m in:

Watch it. You’ll see me. And a lot of my friends.

If you didn’t catch it, HHS Sebellius and the Obama Administration were ordered, by a Judge to make the Morning After Pill (“MAP” or “Plan B”) truly over the counter for people of all ages. No ID need be shown. Not hide the pills behind the counter, but in the “family planing section” where condoms are.

I wrote about Obama’s failure to comply in early May.

About a week or so after, participated in one of several flash mobs you can see in the video above.

The Obama administration decided to obey the Order from the Judge, and make Plan B OTC, no restrictions.

We were told it would take a month or so for the companies that make Plan B to change their packaging and also allot the stores time to make room on the shelves for Plan B.

Fair enough.

That month is over. And I’ve had to run errands that either require I stop at a pharmacy or pass by a pharmacy.

I decided I was going to start checking out a pharmacy a day to see if Plan B/MAP was, in fact, OTC as it’s legally supposed to be.

The first pharmacy I stopped at, I couldn’t find the MAP in the family planning aisle. I approached the pharmacy, noticed during my brief wait, I noted that there was no Plan B behind the counter. When it was my turn, I inquired where I could find Plan B.  A courteous pharmacy tech walked me to the family planning aisle, and seeing that they had apparently sold out, quickly asked that it be restocked. He then showed me–rather proudly–that this particular store also had it in the snack food aisle (I laughed. Milk Duds and MAP anyone?) as well as displayed very prominently in the beauty section, neatly stacked next to nail polish and mascara.

I thanked him for his help and began to leave. “Did you want to buy, um…anything?” He gestured to the box he was holding of emergency contraceptive.

“Oh no, but thank you. I’m okay, I was just checking to make sure it was available over the counter.”

He smiled, we wished each other a good day, and I left surprised that this one chain pharmacy had done such a great job complying with the law.

I stopped at another pharmacy, with my elementary-age daughter. It was actually in a grocery store, and we were getting juice. I saw the pharmacy and thought, “Let’s see what they have.”

In the family planning aisle, I noted not only the lack of MAP, but that there wasn’t even a space on the shelves. We went to the pharmacy.

A tech, who already looked annoyed, asked “What do you want?”

I asked, “Why don’t you have Plan B over the counter and out in the family planning section?”

He perked up (I can’t figure out why?), and asked me to wait a moment. He dug around the shelves in the back, and pulled out a box of emergency contraception.

“We haven’t gotten the right packaging for over-the-counter sales yet. It was supposed to come this week, but….” He quickly searched the computer. “…looks like it was delayed until next week.”

I thanked him for his help.

Most pharmacies in my totally unscientific survey are stocking the MAP properly–it’s near the condoms and tampons. I thought the pharmacy stocking EC in three places was rather impressive. The beauty aisle made sense–there’s a separate check-out there, and it’s almost always run by a woman. The snack aisle? I don’t know, I’m still laughing to myself over that. But kudos, Walgreens. You surprised me.

Also worth mentioning: the pharmacist on duty heard me ask where MAP was on several occasions. One woman put her right fist in the air. Every single pharmacist was supportive, non-judgmental, and helpful.

This is only reflective of a few places in a blue-city in a red-state. (Okay, we’re purple, but since Rick Scott (Republican) is governor, we’re red as far as I’m concerned.)

I wish everyone could have such good, non-judgmental experiences obtaining medications they may need.

A Medical Nightmare: Unemployed, COBRA Ending, and a Cancer Diagnosis

On December 18, 2003, I was diagnosed with adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia. At that time, I was unemployed, my savings was nearly depleted, and my COBRA coverage was set to expire on February 29, 2004. I was thirty-seven years old, and up to this point, I had always been a very healthy, active woman. My biggest fear, aside from dying, was that I wouldn’t have medical coverage after February.

My cancer protocol required four to five days of hospitalization for each round of high-dose chemotherapy, which was completed by the end of March. I checked into the hospital on May 26 to begin four days of total body irradiation followed by two days of chemo before my bone marrow transplant on June 1, 2004. I then spent three weeks recovering in the hospital after BMT.

Following my December 18 diagnosis and ten-day hospital stay, I had moved into my sister Barbara’s home. She and her husband, Dan, took over paying my medical bills, health insurance premiums, and all other expenses.

I applied for Social Security Disability benefits in January and was approved, but my payments would not begin until I’d been disabled for five months. I received my first disability payment in July 2004. Meanwhile, I was researching individual medical plans and discovered that I was eligible for coverage since I’d been insured under a group plan for at least 18 months without any lapse in coverage prior to my intended March 1 effective date.

Once I received the insurance information packet, I was beyond depressed. The insurance premiums were unbelievable. I’d been paying $273 per month for my COBRA coverage—which at the time I thought was expensive—but now I’d be paying $659 per month for an individual plan. I had to have coverage, so my sister and her husband paid for it.

Me with my nephew Andrew, September 2004 – 3 months after BMT; 1 month after he was born.

It is vital to have good medical coverage; it is so important to find a way to pay for it because if you do not have it, it can be catastrophic. My initial hospital stay cost $82,000, of which my insurance company picked up around $15,000, and I paid $550. My entire treatment including hospital stays (one 10-day; three 4- to 5-day; one 3-day due to increased fever after chemo; and a 4-week stay for BMT), chemotherapy, total body irradiation, medications, x-rays, CT and MUGA scans, and BMT probably totaled between $750,000 and $1,000,000 (this based on initial bills of which I saw the price tag and what I know to be the cost of BMT). My caregiver sister was also my bone marrow donor and 28 weeks pregnant—a whole other story in itself and an amazing one. My insurance company covered all her associated medical expenses.

Had I been without insurance, I may not have gotten the treatment I needed to save my life. Had I not had family that was financially capable of covering my expenses, I would not have had insurance coverage and the excellent level of care that accompanied it. I know first-hand how exorbitant medical costs are and how important good medical coverage is to ensure proper treatment.

In the following years, my health insurance premium rose to $759 then to $835 per month. By this time, I’d moved out of my sister’s home and into my own apartment where I was paying $1,000 a month rent. On the salary I earned as a temporary employee, I knew I could not survive if I had to pay $1,000 in rent and $835 for insurance premiums on a monthly basis.

I searched for other health plans and found one costing $453 per month with almost identical benefits, co-pays, and coinsurance. It was still expensive, but at least manageable within my budget. I accumulated some savings post-cancer while still residing with my sister’s family because I was able to work full-time and still collect my disability payments during the nine-month trial work period. This savings allowed me a small safety net post-cancer until I was again on solid financial footing.

My healthcare story had a happy ending, yet many people who are in the situation in which I found myself that December of 2003 may not be so fortunate. My heart breaks for those who go without treatment because they are uninsured, or those who are insured but have limited plans and have to make tough choices between their own and their children’s care.

I am a single woman and it was hard enough coping with my own cancer experience. I can’t imagine factoring a child and/or a husband into those concerns. It must be agonizing. Excellent medical care should be the right of everyone in this country, not only those fortunate ones covered by an employer-paid plan or who can afford an individual one.

Check out two other healthcare-related posts by fellow Evergreeners here and here.

Ms. Ludwig is the author of Rebirth: A Leukemia Survivor’s Journal of Healing during Chemotherapy, Bone Marrow Transplant, and Recovery

Is That Stuff Contagious?

First, the good news:  You can’t “catch” poverty. There are some lifestyle choices you can make that put you at higher-risk for becoming poor, but for most people, poverty is a congenital condition.  An inherited one.

Mama and Daddy are poor?  Congratulations, you and your children have an excellent chance of being poor as well.  You’ve lost the genetic lottery.

As we talked about a week ago in this space, poverty is on the move in the United States.  Ever since we gave up on the War on Poverty in favor of more broadcast-friendly “wars” (drugs, terror), poverty is spreading like kudzu.  Or perhaps more like malaria.

Poverty is the sort of thing you pass on to future generations.  No matter what economic level you’re born into, if you slip into that lower rung – the one nobody wants to talk about – your kids are likely to spend some time poor, too.

According to this piece published by the Urban Institute in 2010, half (ok, 49% – poetic license) of all children born into poverty will continue to live poor for at least half of their young lives (up to 18).  By contrast, a child who is not born to a family below the poverty line has only about a 25% chance of living any years of her youth in poverty.  And, according to the researchers (who tracked families through a University of Michigan study for 40 years), one out of five kids born poor will continue to spend time in their late 20’s poor.

So.  We’ve established that the best way to get poor is to catch it from your parents.  Note that I’m not judging here.  The “why” of that family poverty connection is a topic for another day.  Right now I’m just trying to figure out how one catches this condition.

But you can “catch” poverty, following our metaphor, by “catching” a real disease.  It’s more and more common in the U.S.  Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy here, according to the American Journal of Medicine.  That’s a heck of a latrogenic artifact, huh?

No, bankruptcy is not a guaranteed trip to Poverty Lane. But it’s hardly a stretch to say the two live close to each other.

Of course, one of the best ways to catch financial distress is to, well, get old.   NBC News tells us that fifteen percent of American seniors live below the poverty line.  That probably doesn’t leap out and grab you.  How about this:  Without Social Security the poverty rate among Americans 65 or older would be 54%. Fifty-Four percent.

Those are just a few of the ways to end up poor.  There are plenty more.  Twenty-eight percent of Americans have no emergency savings.  When one of those people lose their job, they’re going to start feeling poor very soon. You could develop an addiction.  You could get a divorce.  All those are tried-and-true ways to catch the poverty bug.

No, clearly poverty is not contagious.  But being poor, for most people, is not the result of poor life decisions any more than catching the flu is the result of aberrant behavior.

I wanted to take this space this week to make it clear that poverty just … is … for a lot of Americans.  Many more are always hovering at the poverty line, and more are crossing it these days than in a long time.  But it’s (generally) not anyone’s fault they’re poor.

Next week we’ll talk about some things we (and by “we” I mean “We the People”, using our collective governmental force) can do about poverty, and why we should.


In addition to writing here at Everblog, Harvey Ward writes about his efforts to live healthier and better at SkippingDessert.Com.  You can also find him on Twitter @hlward.