Talk About Discrimination!
I really like your magazine; I get so much helpful information from it. In ?The Result of Initiative? (Just for Women, November 2002), I saw myself in the descriptions the writer pointed out. I live alone and am depressed, partly because I can?t walk and partly because I?m in constant pain from my injury site (T11) down?inside and out. The one issue the writer didn?t cover is discrimination.
I am a 65-year-old woman who has been in a wheelchair for more than seven and a half years, from spinal-cord injury (SCI). I live in a small, remote town where wheelchair users are scarce. Since my injury, I?ve seen only one other chair and a motorized scooter on the streets.
Getting the city council to approve and improve handicap-parking spaces was like pulling hens? teeth, but I believed that if it wasn?t done, it was a form of discrimination. The situation is much better now, although some areas still need improvement.
I?ve experienced other forms of discrimination, but they were usually because of ignorance, not from out and out malice. However, something was said to me that has just left me reeling.
About a year ago I heard about a prescription medications assistance program. I logged onto the Web and found ?Medicine Program.? It?s available to anyone who has a low income; I believe that?s the only criterion.
I applied for the program and was approved. One problem is I had to apply to several pharmaceutical companies because no two of my meds were from the same company. Some of them move swiftly, and others seem to drag their feet?but with patience they do come through.
When I first applied, my doctor?s assistant processed the paperwork for me, but she had to leave the clinic because her husband was transferred. Another person took over processing the orders and did such a terrible job I asked if someone else could do it. So, the office manager assigned another person. I discovered one of the pharmaceutical companies had moved its processing center from New Jersey to California, so I called ?Jane? and gave her the new information. Several weeks later I hadn?t heard from anyone, so I called. I got a very short ?I?m working on it!? I said okay and waited another two weeks. In the meantime, I racked up prescription bills like crazy?somewhere around $900, and that?s for only one med. When I called, the clerk fairly shouted, ?I told you I?m working on it!? I was a bit intimidated, so I just said okay again. And another two or three weeks passed and still nothing from the doctor?s office. I decided to call the pharmaceutical company myself; I was told they had no order for me. Well, I came a bit unglued. I called Jane and told her what I had found out from the company, and I asked her why she hadn?t processed my application. I reminded her that the whole purpose of getting on the meds program was because I couldn?t afford to have most of my prescriptions filled; my doctor gave me samples whenever she had them, which helped considerably.
Then Jane hit me with all she had. She said, ?People who are on assistance are low priority; our ?real? patients are top priority.? I asked what I was supposed to do. She said, ?Get prescriptions like everyone else.? And with that, she hung up the phone. I was stunned. It took me a day or two to get my wits wrapped around this assault and take some action. First, I wrote a letter to the doctor who owns the clinic (he?s also the mayor of our town). I waited a few days but heard nothing. I tried to call several times, but the phones were answered only by machines. I left my name and number, but no one ever returned my calls. I located the ombudsman who services this area of the state and told her my story. She offered no help; she just said I could serve as my own advocate. In other words, she didn?t want to be bothered.
Quite a bit of time has passed, and I?m still not getting my meds. When I saw my doctor for a regular appointment, she wasn?t too sympathetic to my complaint or my feelings. In fact, she said Jane was really a good worker and was overworked.
Sorry, but that doesn?t go over with me. I?ve had the same doctor for 17 years. I was a ?real? patient for about 10 of them, but now that I?m low priority I?ve become some kind of pariah. What do other people do when they are faced with discrimination for which they have no defense and no one to help them? If anyone has any advice for me, I?d like to hear it.
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