Commentary: Chronically ill and unsupported

When Hannah Rudderham, The Aquinian's editor in chief, learned she exceeded Campus Trust's maximum medication coverage, she was distraught. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

It’s expensive to be chronically ill.

In a country where we have “universal healthcare,” I don’t think able-bodied people realize how pricey a chronic illness can be.

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Lupus, when I was 16. My family spent years buying medication, medical equipment and driving to appointments.

When I came to St. Thomas University in 2018 and saw the Campus Trust healthcare plan would cover 100 per cent of my medications up to $3,000, I felt relief.

That was until summer 2021.

I received an email from Campus Trust telling me I had exceeded my yearly maximum amount of coverage for medications. I was distraught. I didn’t know how this could have happened since it was my third year using the plan and my medications didn’t change. So, how did my coverage run out in May this time?

I went onto the Campus Trust website where I compared last year’s policy with the one for the 2020-2021 school year. There it was. The maximum was changed from $3,000 to $1,000 and I had no idea.

I called to ask the company if there was any other way, but they told me no. I cried on the phone to them – I felt desperate and embarrassed.

I paid for my medications in full out of pocket this summer. Usually, I spend my summers working 40 hours a week and saving it for rent, groceries and university fees. This summer, my prescription drugs took priority.

It’s not the first time I’ve felt helpless as a chronically ill person in Atlantic Canada. I spent four months in a pediatric ward when I was 16, wondering each day if I would take a turn for the worse. I’ve had doctors who have asked me if I was “making my pain up for attention.” I’ve gone to the hospital a few times this year, sometimes in a bed in the hallway and other times just in a chair.

With the healthcare crisis in New Brunswick and other Atlantic provinces, it’s hard for chronically ill people to feel like they have somewhere to turn. Nurses are working extremely long shifts and hospital beds are few and far between.

Earlier this year, I waited eight hours at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital with chest pains before even getting an electrocardiogram. When I finally got in, I was prescribed a medication I was already on and practically pushed out the door. I went back the next day.

There are so many factors that can make or break a chronically ill person’s sense of security. Most of the time, I don’t feel safe and supported as someone with an invisible disability. The one thing that did make me feel supported was knowing every time I picked up my medications, I’d pay a $7.50 co-pay and live another day.

I have a medication that costs $300 that I have to take to avoid my throat closing over. Despite the price, I still always came in under the $3,000 threshold set by Campus Trust.

I know I can’t be the only student who felt betrayed by this change. A $1,000 maximum is nothing for a chronically ill person.

If I would have known about this change prior to the email I got, I could’ve found another insurance company, I could’ve searched for a second job, I could’ve started saving extra cash as soon as I knew.

When I asked the insurance company how it was fair to not publicly notify students, they told me the change was reflected in the brochure on their website.

I don’t know about other students at STU, but I work and attend full-time classes. I don’t actively check the brochure on my insurance company’s website when they’ve never let me down in the past.

An email blast to students about the change to the insurance plan could’ve prevented me, and likely others, from scrambling this summer to make sure I had enough money to continue taking my life-saving medications.

I think insurance companies need to recognize the power they hold and how it might just ruin someone’s life.