Do our elected leaders know how it feels to choose between food and medicine? I do.

Like so many others, the exorbitant cost of my medications and health care has pushed my family into poverty and, at times, endangered my life. I have several serious health conditions that require medication, including an irregular heartbeat due to atrial fibrillation. I also have high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

My husband and I work hard, but the cost of managing these conditions is out of our reach and we struggle mightily. I pay high co-pays each time I need to see a doctor, which is often. At times, refilling my prescriptions has cost hundreds of dollars each month.

Often, those are costs we just can’t bear. As my husband and I try to put the puzzle pieces of our budget together, we say things to each other like, "Well, if we refill this prescription, we won’t be able to cover the mortgage." Or vice versa.

When I’m forced to ration my blood pressure medication

There have been times when we couldn’t afford another trip to the grocery store, so the breakfast food we had in the fridge had to serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other times, we’ve had our electricity cut off. We’ve lived all of those scenarios.

But the most frightening scenario is when I have to ration my pills. Because of the high cost, I’ve skipped doses and gone for weeks without medications that are essential to my health. When I’m forced to ration my blood pressure medication, my body lets me know immediately. I can feel my heart flutter. It affects everything, from my breathing to my logic and reasoning.

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I’ll never forget stumbling into my pharmacy one day, my blood pressure soaring. I could barely see. I asked the pharmacist: Could you just give me a couple pills? Just five or six, until my next paycheck comes in? I’m scared of what will happen if I go any longer without them.

That’s degrading. Dehumanizing. Unacceptable. No one’s health should depend on what a pharmacy company decides to charge, what an insurance company decides to cover or the grace and generosity of a local pharmacist – who was thankfully able to help me that day.

Angelina Scott, left, and her husband, Matthew Scott, in March 2022 in Augusta, Ga.
Angelina Scott, left, and her husband, Matthew Scott, in March 2022 in Augusta, Ga.

Working full time isn't enough

Throughout my life I’ve worked full time, often piecing together temp jobs and part-time work. I've had financial ups and downs, but in 2021, I hit a financial hurdle too many experience: I was fired because of the time I had to take off work for doctor's appointments.

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I didn’t have the paid sick days or paid medical leave I needed to manage my conditions. I showed my employer my doctor’s notes, but it didn’t matter. Suddenly, I lost my income and my health insurance, putting my family and my health in crisis. That’s not right – all hardworking people should be able to access paid sick time and paid leave.

I recently found a new full-time job through a temp agency, and I'm also a self-employed notary. I now get health insurance through the marketplace, but it does not cover all of my medications. For example, I do not take my IBS medication because it is not covered and I can’t afford it.

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Our combined income is $3,300 per month. Our regular expenses are $3,287 per month. The medications I skip cost $585. The money simply isn't there.

Millions of Americans like me are suffering and struggling because of the greed of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from this spring, two-thirds of people with health care debt reported delaying care that they or a family member need in the past 12 months.

Inflation Reduction Act is a start

It’s past time Congress took action, and the Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden will hopefully sign into law this week is a start. But the savings from Medicare finally being allowed to negotiate for lower prices for 10 medications won’t kick in until 2026, which seems very far away given my day-to-day struggles. I hope that some of my meds are among those 10, and that any cost savings Medicare negotiates will trickle down to people not on Medicare, like me.

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But that’s far from certain.

I’m tired of feeling like my health is caught up in a game of political chess. I wonder if our elected leaders know how it feels to choose between food and medicine. It makes me want to shout: My health matters. My life matters. This is barbaric and cruel, and it shouldn’t be political.

This is why we need the commonsense policies in the reconciliation package that help protect Americans from drug companies’ price gouging – and help ensure everyone can access the health care we need. This includes allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which will lower the price of prescription medications for all of us, extending the premium support for health insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and closing the Medicaid coverage gap.

Angelina Scott
Angelina Scott

These policies are overwhelmingly popular, and they would boost families, our public health and our economy. We are grateful Congress finally had the courage to put the health of ordinary people above the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Health care is a human right, and for many of us, this is a matter of life and death.

Angelina Scott is a mother, grandmother and proud member of MomsRising. She lives in North Augusta, South Carolina.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Inflation, drug prices bill are just a start to help people like me