Pam Holt believed she had played by the rules and planned smartly for her retirement. Then cancer struck. After a stem cell transplant, there was a medicine that would, she hoped, put her into remission. The only catch: The drug would cost her more than $11,000 a year.
Holt, who lives in Granger, Ind. (a suburb of South Bend), was widowed at age 40 and raised three children on her own. She was an elementary-school teacher, then an assistant principal and principal. In 2016, after she had retired, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable blood cancer. Medicare paid for the stem cell transplant. Then she found out what her cancer medicine would cost.
“The first month was over $3,000,” Holt says. After that, under the rules of the Medicare Part D coverage gap (aka donut hole), her copay went down. That’s because her drugs had cost so much that she qualified for catastrophic coverage, under which her share of prescription costs was reduced. But she still had to come up with $640 a month.
“I was dumbfounded. I was new to all this because I was blissfully happy and healthy before this,” Holt says. “I thought I had prepared. I had a teacher pension. I had Social Security. But the $640 a month was way more than I could handle.”
After putting $11,000 on credit cards to pay for her medications, she went to her financial adviser. His only solution was that she refinance her house to pay off the huge credit card debt.
“I was devasted,” Holt recalls. “I had only three years left on my mortgage, and I had to take out a new mortgage and start over at 69. That’s what the drug industry has done for me.”
Holt is grateful that at least she had a house to refinance. “There are people out there who have no home to refinance,” she observes. “And they have much tougher situations than I. So I’m blessed. But it doesn’t make me happy.”