By Lenise J., Seminole County
I live in Altamonte Springs, which is in Seminole County. I first started going to the Equal Access Clinic around May of 2021 because I was having issues with unusually heavy menstrual bleeding. I have insurance through the Marketplace, but I’m barely able to scrape the tip of the iceberg of my seven and a half thousand dollar deductible. It takes a lot of money for me to just be able to talk to a doctor– let alone a specialist. I tried to get a hold of a specialist locally, only to be told that my initial appointment was going to be about $300 because the provider wasn’t in my network. A few other specialists around the Orlando area were recommended to me, but since they also weren’t in my network, I would be treated as a self-pay client. That means I would have had to pay a lot for every single appointment– not just a copay. So I took my roommate’s suggestion of getting in contact with one of the medical schools in the state to see if they could direct me to some budget-friendly resources that could help me.
Since I’m currently only working part-time, I don’t have the biggest of bank accounts. My issues were interfering with work and my finances because I’m an Uber driver and I’m on the road a lot. It gets distracting to have to figure out where the next restroom is going to be. I was constantly uncomfortable and was spending a lot more than I care to admit on feminine hygiene products just to even keep up. Of course, I was also in a lot of pain, which caused me to be in the worst possible mood, and I just wasn’t able to enjoy the things in my life I was used to enjoying. I was out of money, out of ideas, and out of any other options. My situation was just going to get worse, so I made a trip from Altamonte Springs up to Gainesville to go to the Equal Access Clinic.
When I got there, I explained how dire my situation had become and that I absolutely needed help. At the very least, getting connected with the Equal Access Clinic helped me start the process of figuring out what was going on with me and what was causing my symptoms. I was sent to get bloodwork done, and thankfully that was covered by the Equal Access Clinic free of charge. I was even able to get the bloodwork done at the Quest Diagnostics of my choosing. The bleeding issues have apparently plunged my iron levels really low, and I think my hemoglobin was found to be around an 8.5, which isn’t good. I’m practically anemic. At one of the Gynecology Night appointments at the Equal Access Clinic, I was prescribed iron pills to get my iron numbers and hemoglobin back up because my bleeding issues have just been taking it all.
The staff at the Equal Access Clinic then referred me to an external provider who conducted an ultrasound on me. Since this provider was not affiliated with UF Health, I ended up as a self-pay client for the service and am still trying to keep up with that bill. Despite the cost, I had to get it done. It was the only way I was going to find out what was going on with me. Lo and behold, the ultrasound led the medical team to discover that multiple fibroids have been growing inside of me for approximately the past four years. I had no idea. They are what have been causing my issues and now they’ve only gotten worse. Once the staff at the Equal Access Clinic explained their concerns about the ultrasound results, the million dollar question that followed was, “How interested are you in having biological children of your own some day?” Personally, I’m not, so I was then told that a partial hysterectomy would be the ultimate solution for my issue.
The past several months have been drama-filled, but thank goodness there are alternate resources available to help me do something about the issues I’m facing. I’ve been going to the Equal Access Clinic on a quarterly basis to get a Depo shot, which has thankfully stopped the bleeding. Nonetheless, the root cause is still there and has to be addressed whether I like it or not. I’m ultimately going to end up traveling up to Gainesville again to see the specialist there once the Equal Access Clinic sends a referral and my records to the women’s health section at UF Health. Some wheels are turning, but it’s still money. It’s still time. All of this still involves driving a distance of at least two hours up to Gainesville for follow-up appointments, which will inevitably keep interfering with my work. It gets interesting when you’re desperate, low on money, out of ideas, and you have to turn to a medical school two hours away from you in order to get help.
Given my super high insurance deductible, it feels as if I don’t have any insurance at all because I have to meet that deductible in order to use my plan. It’s scary to admit it, but once I start this process and the bills start coming in, I won’t be able to afford them. Going through a charity care program is going to be my only real option at that point. I’ll have to talk to a social worker and explain that I can’t afford any of what I’m being charged. I’m in a dire situation and have to improve my health. I just can’t leave this alone.
This whole experience has definitely caused me to make some tough choices. It has caused me to be in situations where I’ve had to choose whether to use my money to fill my gas tank or put it toward paying for my ultrasound bill or the other bills I have. If I have to make a long-haul drive to the airport and the person I’m transporting lives far away, for example, my gas tank has to be as full as it can be. Factoring in the price of tolls, in addition to gas prices being what they are right now, it’s not a good situation to be in.
I’m at the point in my life where I’m facing the most significant health issues I’ve ever faced. I’ve generally been healthy throughout my life and these issues came out of nowhere. Even as far as dental health care goes, I’ve usually been pretty regular on dental appointments throughout my life. However, I had to drop my dental coverage due to reduced income and complications caused by the pandemic. Besides brushing and flossing, I haven’t been able to do terribly much when it comes to my dental health care. I’m really hoping to be able to get some form of dental coverage back for preventative purposes.
I’ve never been eligible for Medicaid. I’m still not eligible because I don’t have any dependents. If Florida expanded Medicaid and I were to qualify for it, I would feel a lot more on top of my health since I would be able to go to a doctor if needed or if something comes up. I wouldn’t have to think about it so much like I do now. Hopefully, I will be in a better insurance situation soon so I can finally take care of my health.