Roller Coaster of Coverage

Abbie Jarman

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The country’s seniors are debilitated by Medicaid and Medicare’s poor management, inadequate coverage, and meager attempts to compensate for drug companies’ soaring prices. And, according to one senior, caravanning to Canada for drugs is hardly the solution.

Pearline Atkins, a 67-year-old Chicago native, began her battle with Medicaid/Medicare in 1994, when carpal tunnel forced her to leave work and lose her employer-provided insurance. She was a cook for the Board of Education in Chicago, a job far too taxing to return to after a difficult surgery.

Since then, Pearline has been on a roller coaster of Medicaid coverage to pay for ulcers, cholesterol, pain, and brittle bone medication. The programs are constantly changing, expiring, and booting her off, and every six months she finds herself reapplying. “When the [administration] changes,” Pearline explained, “everything changes, and they don’t think about the person in poverty.”

The unreliability of the government programs forces many seniors like Pearline—already financially unstable — to skip prescriptions, cut pills in half, or simply not eat. Pearline usually sacrifices food first, and occasionally she must choose between two drugs.

Pearline is well aware that the culprits for the crisis include not only the government, but pharmaceutical companies who keep drug prices soaring while knitting close ties with legislators. “There are so many drug lobbyists in Springfield, you can’t walk without seeing them everywhere you look,” she says.

While the government, economists, and drug companies decide the fate of Pearline and her fellow seniors, she diligently keeps up her end of the battle by joining groups like the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, which pushes for improvement of senior care. “Things aren’t looking good right now for seniors,” Pearline says. “There’s nothing you can do about it but keep fighting for senior rights.”

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