The following interview was done to help bring to focus the difficulties facing the underinsured in the State of Iowa.
Even with a health plan, most people in the United States are struggling to pay for their care. According to a study done by Families USA, nearly 50 Americans are underinsured, with most unable to afford the co-payments for doctor visits, lab work or prescription drugs.
Doris Travolta, 65, of Iowa, suffers from chronic pain, diabetes, high-blood pressure and severe stomach complications. Her only income is about $1,000 a month from Social Security. A significant part helps pay for her medical expenses and co-payments.
“Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed when I look at the stack of medical bills piling up on top of one another on the kitchen table,” she says.
Humana, which is similar to Medicare, is a public health care benefits program. It offers consumer plans for people who are 65 years or older. And like Medicare, the premium for supplemental insurance often is too expensive for many, while others may not even qualify under its terms.
Relatively new to the system, Travolta has only been on Humana for several months, and already she is feeling the burden of the system.
“I’m on a fixed income and I just can’t afford the fees the insurance companies are asking me to pay for full coverage,” said Travolta, who must pay 20 percent of medical costs not covered under her existing plan.
She currently spends over $150 each month in co-payments for medical bills. She says the amount can vary from month to month depending on whether she notices any changes with her body and if any lab results come back abnormally.
Still, Travolta sometimes ignores some physical symptoms. Recently, that has included chest pains, electrocuting sensations running down her arm and numbness in her fingers.
“I don’t know what else to do. I’m a widow and too old to go back to work, so I just endure the pain and pray that the good Lord will continue to look after me.”
Travolta explained that by not seeing the doctor, she will have more money to buy food, gas, make needed car repairs and most importantly, help her two grandchildren–who lost their mother a couple of years ago.
While Travolta has enough worries in her life, she also continues to care for her ailing nephew, who has lived with her for the past four years. He is disabled and suffers from numerous health problems as well.
To help alleviate her financial woes, Travolta says she forgoes regular lab work if she can help it, and hasn’t been to the eye doctor as frequently as one should, even though regular eye exams are critical for someone with diabetes. She also complained of her outdated eyeglasses, and discussed her visits to the local food pantry on a monthly basis.
In recent months, Travolta has become aware of some physical changes that she fears is related to her diabetes: Her feet have turned dark colors, and knows she should see a doctor more often. But with her 20 percent co-payments, Travolta thinks she is forced to choose between seeing the doctor regularly or paying for groceries.
Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, is working to limit the amount anyone has to spend out-of-pocket for medical expenses. He said it makes no sense for someone to lose her life savings because of illness, nor should seniors be forced to choose between shopping for groceries or buying their prescription medication.
“We need comprehensive health care reform, not a band-aid,” the congressman said.
“I want to encourage anyone having problems similar to Ms. Travolta to contact my office for help, our toll-free number is 866.914.IOWA. Often times my caseworkers can help people navigate the Medicare system and provide them with greater information on where to seek help if you can’t afford your medications, doctor’s bills, housing, and food.”
While Travolta faces many uncertainties in her life, some things remain constant: her trust in God and her willingness to help out family and friends in times of need.