For medically vulnerable families, pressure from inflation is inevitable

ROSAMOND, Calif. – Deborah Lewis got out of bed before dawn and logged into her phone so she could start delivering fast food, coffee and groceries to residents in this western part of the desert from Mojave where test pilot Chuck Yeager has broken the sound barrier generations since.

Lewis prayed she would earn $75, just enough to fill the gas tank of her Kia sedan so she could drive her 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, 80 miles south of Los Angeles to receive her weekly chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Just a year ago, the same tank of gas would have cost $30 less.

After a full shift as a gig worker, the mother had earned close to what she needed. “It took a lot longer than I thought it would,” she said.

High inflation is hitting families across the country. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices in July rose 8.5% from a year earlier, one of the biggest increases in decades. The Bureau of Economic Analysis found that consumers spend the most on housing and utilities, food, and medical care.

Overall wages continue to rise, but after adjusting for rising prices of goods and services, workers’ paychecks have fallen 3.5% over the past year. A recent KFF poll found that 74% of registered voters put inflation, including rising gas prices, as their top concern.

For millions of families living with chronic illnesses – such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer – or other debilitating conditions, inflation is proving a punishing scourge that could harm their health. Unlike eating out less or buying fewer clothes, many patients have no choice when it comes to paying for medications, medical supplies, and other incidentals. Some have to travel long distances to see a specialist, and others have to follow strict diets.

“Patients with chronic conditions are usually the first line to see a lack of supplies or an increase in out-of-pocket expenses,” said Paul Conway, president of policy and global affairs for the American Association of Kidney Patients.

Health care has become increasingly unaffordable. Half of adults say they have difficulty paying their healthcare costs, according to a KFF survey. A third say they or a family member have skipped recommended medical treatment in the past year because of cost, and a quarter of adults say they ration pills or leave prescriptions unfilled.

Inflation has pushed families even further by driving up the price of gasoline and food, as well as medical products such as needles and sanitary napkins. Health care costs have risen 5.1% since July 2021, and medical products – which include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical equipment and supplies – have risen 3.7%.

Inflation is particularly detrimental to the health of low-income patients; studies have found a strong link between poverty and health. According to the California Budget & Policy Center, more than half of California households earning $50,000 or less struggle to pay for food, housing and medical expenses.

For Deborah Lewis and her husband, Spencer, their concerns about rising gas prices have never been about skimping on summer travel or weekend getaways. This is to make sure they have enough gas to drive Annabelle to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for chemotherapy and other drugs administered through a port in her chest.

The family relies on Spencer’s disability check, which he receives because he has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an inherited condition that causes severe joint pain. He is also dealing with broken discs in his spine and a cyst pushing against his spinal nerves. In January, he quit working as a pest control technician, shifting more financial responsibilities to his wife.

The disability check covers rent and utilities, leaving Deborah’s freelance work to cover gas. They also receive $500 a month from Miracles for Kids, which helps families with critically ill children.

One morning in June, Deborah packed snacks for the drive ahead while Annabelle, wrapped in her favorite blanket, waited on the couch. Most of her long blonde hair has fallen out due to her treatments. The night before, Deborah spent $73.24 to fill up at Costco.

Before they left, Deborah learned that the couple had a negative balance in their checking account. “I have so many things on my plate,” she said.

The family has already delayed health care for a family member: Their dog, a Doberman pinscher named Chief, skipped a visit to the vet for a mass that caused his intestines to rise.

Politicians are well aware of the washing-out effects of inflation. In October, most California households will receive “anti-inflation checks” of up to $1,050 to help offset the high cost of gas and other goods under a budget signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in June. . The average price of a gallon of gasoline in California remains above $5, while the national average is around $4.

But health experts worry that even with the one-off help, affordability could become a life-or-death issue for some Californians. For example, the price of insulin can range from $300 to $400 per vial without insurance.

“We’ve seen a number of patients living with diabetes and on fixed incomes hit hard by rising inflation,” said Matthew Freeby, an endocrinologist and director of the UCLA Gonda Diabetes Center. “Type 1 and type 2 diabetes usually require multiple prescription medications which can already be expensive. Patients had to choose between their day-to-day finances and life-saving medications, such as insulin or other treatments.

Inflation is also a challenge for people who rely on certain foods as part of their health care regimen, especially with food prices up 10.9% over the past year.

Toyan Miller, 60, an integrative nutritional health practitioner from San Dimas, Calif., was diagnosed with vasculitis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, two autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation. Miller’s Medically Adapted Diet calls for gluten-free organic foods. Miller said she dips into her savings to afford the average $300 she spends on groceries each week. Last year she spent about $100 less.

“The price of avocado mayonnaise freaked me out,” she said. “Before, it was $8. Now it’s $16.99.

Even those in good health can find themselves helping family or friends in need.

In the mountainous Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles, Shelley Goldstein, 60, helps her parents, both in their 20s, pay for items, such as incontinence products, not covered by health insurance. Goldstein’s father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a retirement community with his wife, Doris.

“It’s basic stuff, but it’s like $70 a month between the two of them,” said Goldstein, who works as a speech coach. “It’s a lot.”

Goldstein worries about the extra amount of her parents’ health care costs she will have to pay since they are retirees on fixed incomes.

“What’s keeping me up at night right now is what’s going to happen,” she said. ” There are two. My parents’ increased need for towels, medicine and other medical care increases as their health declines.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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