Melissa Frykman-Thieme, 55, provided patients with medical services for 35 years as a registered nurse, but now can't afford her own care.
Her life changed when she suffered a heart attack at the age of 50. Fourteen visits to the hospital, two near-death experiences and a colossal pile of medical bills later, Frykman-Thieme, a resident of Vashon Island in Washington, finds herself out of work collecting disability benefits and skimping on necessary health care to save money.
Frykman-Thieme's story is not unique. Many Americans, particularly women, skip trips to the doctor or don't take medicine because of financial constraints. A Huffington Post story published earlier this month reported that 43 percent of American women aged 19 to 43 go without necessary care due to costs. Among advanced countries, America has the highest percentage of women who hold off on receiving health care for money-related reasons.
A flood of Huffington Post readers -- insured and uninsured alike -- responded, sharing their stories of skipping care because of cost-related issues.
“I have come to a point where I can’t afford many of the co-pays that my medicare advantage plan requires, so [I] often go without some doctor visits and dental care that I really need,” Frykman-Thieme wrote in an email.
For years, Deanna Busdieker, 45, from Cascade Locks, Ore., went without treatment for her ongoing mental health issues, which she attributed to a female hormonal imbalance called polycystic ovary syndrome. It wasn’t until she was on the verge of committing suicide that she was granted disability benefits and finally able to receive much needed medical attention, Busdieker wrote in an email.
Currently working as a database specialist for a local school district, Busdieker's employer-provided health coverage still leaves her struggling with co-pays she can't afford, according to an email she sent to the Huffington Post. But she heavily depends on the coverage she does get. "I dread my job ever coming to an end because I NEED health care now," she wrote.
The financial burden of falling ill has become a fear for many American women. A recent study by the Commonwealth Fund found that nearly half of women in United States are afraid of getting sick because of money-related issues, as compared to only 9 percent of women in the United Kingdom.
For even those women with health coverage, differences in the medical needs of men and women have put women at a disadvantage when it comes to paying for health care. Kaiser Health News found that American women pay about $1 billion more in health insurance premiums than men every year -- a phenomenon that is slated to end soon. Starting 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to charge women higher premiums than men.
Among the insured unable to receive necessary care is Tracy Vardy, 40, from Wichita Falls, Texas. She was diagnosed with a congenital benign tumor when she was in high school and experiences seizures and migraines from epilepsy, but hasn’t had an MRI in years, according to her email.
Without enough money for doctor’s visits, she can’t get a prescription for the medication she needs to keep her seizures under control, she wrote.
“My health has deteriorated to the point that I will never be able to work, and that is at least as much from going without treatment as it is from my original medical problems."