Ending the trade off between food and medication

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Faced with making choices between food and medicine, Norris Nicholson chose to eat. But without his medications, his heart became weaker and he suffered multiple heart attacks. He had to get insurance if he was going to get better.

For years, Norris Nicholson couldn’t afford to stay healthy.

He was supposed to take nine pills a day to treat a lengthy list of medical conditions: arthritis, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes. Added together, his medicines cost $1300 a month. Norris had no health insurance, and he couldn’t keep up.

“Either I ate,” he says, “Or I took the medicine.”

Norris chose to eat. When he couldn’t buy all of the medicine he needed to, his health plummeted. Within five years, he suffered four heart attacks.

With each visit to the heart doctor costing about $275, and the hospital fees associated with his last heart attack roughly $10,000, Norris was quickly sinking into thousands of dollars of debt. He applied several times for an Illinois Medicaid card that would help with his payments, but the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) kept turning him down. He wasn’t disabled, they told him.

Norris also applied nine times for Social Security disability benefits. Nine times, he was rejected.

After hearing Norris’s story, a social worker at St. Joseph Memorial Hospital referred him to the hospital’s medical-legal partnership where attorney Diane Goffinet helped Norris appeal the Medicaid denial.  It took two hearings and a trip to court — during which time Norris suffered his 5th heart attack — but the judge reversed the decision and Norris was able to receive a medical assistance card to pay his health-related expenses.

“I was so relieved,” Norris says. “It took so much burden off of me.”

Norris now had a way to see his doctors, obtain the medical tests he needed to follow his health problems, and pay for his medications.