Rx Express — Sonja & Bill Clarke — Placerville, CA

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Sonja Clarke describes herself and her husband Bill as "old school." They worked hard, raised a family, and lived life according to the rules. They budgeted and saved, and planned things out very carefully.

They never expected that, as they entered their golden years, they would have to sell their home in order to pay for health care

Yet that is what Sonja, 66, and Bill, 67, have been forced into. Their daughter has purchased the Placerville house they live in, and they will be living in a "granny flat" at the rear of the property. They consider themselves lucky in a way because at least family will be in the home, and they will get to see their grandchildren.

But they also feel great anger. Why, they want to know, should decent, hard-working people be forced out of their home?

The answer lies in the cost of medicine, including prescription drugs. The Clarkes will be hopping aboard the RX express to help alleviate the costs of some of their prescription medications. It won’t solve their other health care cost crises, but it will help.

The Clarkes moved to California 40 years ago, she from Wyoming and he from Vancouver, British Columbia. Bill worked for a wholesale paper company and Sonja worked first as a legal secretary, then in the latter part of her career, at a senior day care center helping adults who were suffering from Alzheimer’s or had other disabilities. She retired from county government three years ago

When they retired, they were paying a $218 monthly premium to Kaiser that covered both of them. A year ago that shot up to $546. Today it is $718. "A 400 percent increase in four years is outrageous," fumes Sonja. "It’s not right."

They could go on a less expensive plan, $234 monthly. But here’s the rub: Under their current plan they have a $10 co-pay for required medications. They have four between them, all necessary, including Bill’s epilepsy medication, Felbatol. Sonja takes two inhalers for asthma and needs back medication as well.

If they go to the $234 plan, they will have to pay full price for the Felbatol and other medicines, which do not come in a generic version: it adds up to roughly $1,600 every two months, or close to $10,000 a year.

So the Clarkes are squeezed: forced to pay either $10,000 for medication alone, or $8,500 for premiums plus co-pays. Their retirement income is roughly $3,000 a month. When you’re paying nearly one-third of your income for health care, it doesn’t leave much for food, lodging, clothes and other necessities, let alone travel or the other nicer things in life.

And so, the Clarkes have sold their home to their middle daughter, Cathy, who has moved in with her husband and two kids. When construction is completed, the Clarkes will move to the granny flat.

Sonja wants someone to do something about the soaring costs of health care. "I just feel so victimized," she says. "I feel so angry." Like tens of thousands of Californians, she believes that health insurers are targeting seniors especially, because seniors cost them more money.

Echoing another growing cry among California’s health care consumers, Sonja says "I would do anything I could" to help fix the state’s decrepit health care delivery system.

Consumer Watchdog
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