To the Editor:
Summertime at the Jersey Shore has come and gone, with vacationers and locals alike itching to get out of their houses and feel a sense of normalcy - heightening the risk of COVID-19 transmission with each boardwalk day, outdoor meal, and supermarket trip. While we’ve flattened our curve and new cases have plateaued, there is still a stark lack of available treatments, and it can still be a challenge just to get a test. I know too many people who will not seek out medical care simply because it’s too expensive. Many of these are people who are most at risk- our seniors, people with pre-existing conditions, and working class folks who stock our shelves and are caregivers to our loved ones.
It’s scary to think about how our health would be impacted if we contract COVID-19, but I think many people face an impossible choice when they also think about how their bank accounts would be impacted. And as the race for a vaccine and treatments marches full speed ahead, we need to keep in mind that a vaccine will only work if everyone can afford it. That’s why Congress needs to take action to stop drug corporations from setting the prices in order to ensure we all can.
I know what it’s like to have to make a hard decision about how to afford the care I needed to be healthy. At the beginning of my junior year of high school, my dad became really sick - and he wasn’t getting any better. He was worried about what would happen if he wasn’t able to care for me anymore, so we went to live with his girlfriend. One late evening I was jolted awake by my dad yelling for me to call 911. He was rushed to the emergency room and ended up in the hospital for over three months. In that time my whole life was turned upside down. My father’s medical bills and the cost of his prescription drugs were so expensive that we were really struggling to keep up with the rest of our bills.
It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I realized how much money my family has had to spend on prescription medications or how expensive they actually are. During fall semester last year I got extremely sick and was stranded at school alone. My dad was in the hospital again and I had no one to rely on but myself and my friends. I had been going through a lot of pain for about a week, but since my money went straight to tuition, I avoided going to the hospital as long as possible for fear of more medical bills. Feeling my lowest, I finally gathered myself and I went to the school nurse to get some help and was told to go to the emergency room. After spending hours waiting to be seen and filling out tons of paperwork, the nurse asked me to buy a specific medication I needed for my stomach. I looked at the price and I looked at the last couple of dollars I had left on my account but I really had no choice: I bought the medication.
I will never forget that day, having to choose between the last of my money to buy food, or the medication I needed to get better. Nobody should have to make this choice.
I know that this isn't just an issue my family goes through; millions of families in America have to make hard choices about how to afford their good health every day, and it’s getting worse now that millions of people are losing their jobs and their healthcare during this pandemic. That’s why it’s so important we all stand up and speak out together against drug corporations using this pandemic to price lifesaving medicines out of our reach.
On Monday, August 31st New Jersey Organizing Project is hosting a virtual community roundtable called “Care our Communities Deserve”, featuring Congressman Andy Kim. We’ll highlight stories of folks like me who’ve been harmed by drug corporations and talk about solutions we’re fighting for together to lower prescription drug prices, address the overdose crisis, and make COVID-19 vaccines and treatments accessible to all of us. Medicines only work if people can afford them, and treatments only work if we all have access. Visit newjerseyop.org for more information and to register for this event.