I stepped into the pharmacy last Friday and it was a bit busier than usual. It is a smaller pharmacy as pharmacies go. A sort of mom and pop operation located in a building with around 10 doctor offices. Just down the street is a hospital. The area is lower middle class with a fair share of poor working class.
A tiny bell hangs on the door and subtly announces someone entering. As I enter, one of the staff behind the counter looks up and greets me with a good afternoon and continues to ring up the prescription for another customer.
In this pharmacy because of it's smaller size, it is sometimes unavoidable to hear some of the conversations between staff and customers. The staff is careful though when talking about meds and other personal information.
I make my way to the counter and hand my prescription to the pharmacist “It will be a few minutes,” she says. I grab a seat to wait, when I begin to hear bits and pieces of a conversation a customer in a wheelchair is having with the pharmacist.
In the wheelchair sits a man; his hair is somewhat long and his beard looks as though it hadn't been trimmed in a while. On his thin frail body is a thick heavy coat that could use some cleaning. The coat looks as if it weighs more than him.
I hear the pharmacist apologize and say the insurance will not pay to fill one of the prescriptions because it is 3 days too soon. The man looks up to the pharmacist shakes his head in acknowledgment, resigned that he will not get the prescription filled. He moves his wheelchair and parks about 8 feet from me.
As he sits waiting for his other prescription, I can't help but notice how his head is bent down, with his thin frame leaning forward, both arms hugging the arm rests. He does not appear to be comfortable in the least. His hands have a tremor, a shake to them. It's hard to tell, he is probably in his mid thirties that time had not been kind to.
I made short glances, so as not to stare and was struck how alone the man looked.
A few moments passed and he was called to the counter. The pharmacist said his total was $3.
“Sir, it's going to be $3.”
He was barely audible from where I sat, so I didn't hear all of his response.
Hearing the pharmacist, I gathered this particular prescription used to have a no "out of pocket" for him in the past, but for whatever reason, it now required a co-pay.
From the wheelchair I can hear his soft spoken voice, “I don't know what I'm going to do.” He says this twice
It was evident he didn't have $3. Through his mannerisms, he appeared to be at a loss. A little more conversation took place with the pharmacist explaining the store hours for the New Years.
With difficulty, he turned the wheelchair around; his hands having trouble grasping the wheels to get it moving. Our eyes make brief contact and I see desperation in another human.
I interrupt him. “Sir, is it $3 you need to get your prescription?”
“Yes,” is his response. I tell the man that if it's $3 to get your prescription, I'll pay for it. Ok? You'll do that, really? he says. The look of relief and gratitude that washed over his face was stunning. All over $3. All he could do was thank me. Sincere gratitude over $3.
The pharmacist thanked me as well and commented on my generosity. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed by all the “thank you's.” The power $3 had on the life of another is powerful stuff.
If I could do that times 10. times 100. I would.
The man had a ear to ear smile on his face as he left and thanked me one more time before leaving. It felt good to help, but I couldn't help but wonder, what about next time when his prescription needs to be filled? Will he have the money, or will he have to go without? In America, the man in the wheelchair, your neighbor, or a relative, maybe a co-worker will find it increasingly difficult to pay for their medications going into 2012. This, in one of the richest countries on the face of the planet. It doesn't have to be this way and some day soon it won't. For right now though, I guess greed will be saying otherwise.
Shortly thereafter my prescription is ready. I make the co-pay. Next month my co-pay will increase. Again. But first I will have to meet the deductible and in 2012 it is increasing. Again.
Still, I am fortunate. In so many ways.
I have left the pharmacy and spot the wheelchair about a block away. The man with his large heavy coat is slowly making his way down the sidewalk. Alone.
I keep thinking of him. I just wish the 1% would and we would have a different country.
9:42 PM PT: I am humbled to make the rec list. Thanks.
I cannot remove the man in the wheelchair from my mind. It hurts to see his pain and the challenges he must endure.
Perhaps it is time to "adopt a human." One on one "adoption." Maybe a group of people could "adopt."
No one should go without their medicine. No human being should go without adequate healthcare. It is a human right. Not a privilege.
The man in the wheelchair and countless others need us.
Wed Jan 04, 2012 at 11:20 PM PT: I decided not to wait and called the pharmacy this afternoon and spoke with one of the pharmacist on duty from last Friday afternoon. She recalled the man in the wheelchair and my $3 assist.
I brought up the idea of an account maintained by donations for the pharmacy to draw from when customers are unable to cover their out of pocket co-pays. Specifically, an account for the man in the wheelchair.
The man in the wheelchair was not a regular customer to the best of her knowledge. The pharmacist liked the idea on the surface, but wondered how it could be done. She was concerned that abuse could possibly occur if “some people” got wind of it. The pharmacist went on to explain that most of the customers who have trouble paying are those that are prescribed pain meds. She said they will often jump from pharmacy to pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled and will ask for help meeting the expense.
The pharmacist mentioned to me that when a customer has difficulty meeting the expenses, the pharmacy will go to different lengths to make sure they can leave with some medication. Through correspondence with insurance and drug companies they can reduce the costs she said. If for whatever reason they cannot get all of their medication through these means, they will often times give a customer just enough to get by until some other arrangement can be worked out.
She also noted that they will carry a co-pay outstanding balance for weeks sometimes, just so they can get their needed medication at the time of pick up.
The assessment made by the pharmacist is interesting. I left the phone conversation with the feeling that most of the people having difficulty paying their co-pays were of the drug seeking variety.
Maybe it's because of their lower income location that paints this picture. I don't know.
Regardless, there are people in need of all kinds of healthcare. From the medicine prescribed, to the physical and mental and everything in between.