Money falls endlessly into a liver-shaped hole in the ground. dollars, hopeless, finances, bills, black hole

The High Price of Living with RA

"Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick." -- Bernie Sanders

In June I was interviewed for an article for Marie Claire magazine about the high cost of living with chronic pain and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in particular. The article was published July 21, 2021: "The High Price of Living with Chronic Pain" by Alice Oglethorpe.

Getting candid about medical debt

In the article, I'm embarrassingly candid about the massive amount of medical debt I have accumulated over many years and how hard it's been to try to climb out of this deep well of debt. It's a stressful, anxiety-riddled, embarrassing, shameful, and depressing abyss in which to drown.

Being saddled with thousands of dollars of medical debt is also very unfair. I never chose to get this expensive chronic illness and I did nothing to deserve it. Why should I have to choose between drowning in medical debt or getting the care and treatment I need? I shouldn't.

Many of us struggle to pay for care

But I've had to do just this, and I know I'm not alone. Many people with RA and other chronic illnesses go without the medications and treatment they need because they simply can't afford to pay for their medical care. It's wrong and it desperately needs to change as soon as possible, somehow.

Health care has become more like wealth care, if you ask me. We are often paying for the wealthy to get richer while we get sicker. Living with a painful chronic illness is bad and difficult enough, never mind battling exorbitant medical bills and fighting with insurance companies.

Not to sound like a victim or martyr, but I feel like I'm already being "punished" enough just by having RA and all of the pain and sickness and fatigue it entails, never mind adding on the heavy burden of debt.

Why is care so expensive?

I have several friends who live in different countries in Western Europe, and they're always astounded when I tell them the cost of a particular test (like an X-ray) or medication or treatment. The same "service" in Europe typically costs a fraction of what it does in the United States.

Sure, we usually have top-notch care, but what does that matter if you can't afford it?

For years, before the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed into law, I had coinsurance, which is extremely expensive (it was the only health insurance I could get due to having a pre-existing condition). I had high deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum amounts and I just put everything on my credit card and thought, "I'll worry about it later."

Well, "later" came quite quickly and I was soon fighting an uphill battle against medical debt that only kept increasing.

Progress in paying off medical debt

Thankfully, once the Affordable Care Act was passed, and I was no longer discriminated against for having a pre-existing condition, and I qualified for Medicaid (which my state of Minnesota expanded access to for patients), I stopped bleeding a steady stream of medical money.

And, I am joyful to report, that during COVID-19 (especially lockdown and before vaccines were available), I have paid off many credit cards and thousands of dollars of debt! My credit score has also increased dramatically to 740 and it's still climbing. Whew!

Nobody should have their life ruined financially

I might - just might - finally be climbing out of this deep, dark, debt hole. For this, I am incredibly grateful and I'm proud of my hard work. Yet, it's always a precipitous edge on which I exist because I live with RA, which I will probably have for the rest of my life, as there is no cure (yet!).

So many of us with RA are constantly teetering on the edge of financial ruin just because we're trying to manage our RA and health and live as normal lives as possible. Nobody should have their life ruined financially because of a disease they had no control over getting.

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