In a world where mental health seems to be on the tip of every tongue, I was surprised to get a note a few weeks back indicating that my insurance plan would no longer cover the “I function better without anxiety” medicine that I’ve been taking for nearly six years. Six years.
Six years is a record for me as my mental health brain is known as a bit of a code cracker (not a medical term). What that means is that, in years past, I was forced into a mental health med-switch every two(ish) years as my gifted and talented brain chemicals did an override on whatever meds I was taking at the time. We are a quandary, those with this gift. It became quite common, whenever my doctor prescribed the next big thing, saying: “this can probably be a long-term option”, for us both to pause for a moment and then, oh, how we would laugh.
With my current meds (Trintellix), I reached and passed that two(ish) years mark four years ago. So it seems that my brain is either a huge fan or simply unable to crack the code. Whatever the reason, it has certainly made me a huge fan. Also my husband, my children, and everyone I interact with including the short-handed staff at the local UPS store.
Read the room, insurance friends, it’s been a rough few mental health years for the world.
So, yes, I was surprised to receive a note indicating that I would have to find a new medication option – from an included list, of course. Surprised? Gut-punched. As an added bonus, this note arrived just two weeks before my current prescription was set to expire. I’m relatively sure that even those thinking of a career in psychiatry know that two weeks is not enough time for a successful medication switch. Heck, the chances of getting an appointment with my prescriber (or any prescriber) within that two-week window were laughable. Read the room, insurance friends, it’s been a rough few mental health years for the world. For a full medication switch, the typical path is a slow wean off the current meds in conjunction with a slow titrate of the new ones. “Slow” being the operative word, often taking months, as the objective is not to lose mental health ground. The current queues to see a counselor or psychiatrist are very long. Two weeks? Hilarious.
As a second added bonus, the list of recommended alternative meds was, verbatim, the list of all the meds I had previously taken. It was like a list of Cracked Codes Past. I know the entire document was probably spat out in bulk, but had the sender accessed my Caremark file?
I have had anxiety for much of my life. I can pinpoint moments as far back as fifth grade during which I felt an unexpected and unwelcome rise of panic. It was confusing and scary, but I have worked hard to meet it head-on. I have been vigilant with counseling and following all things prescribed, including exercise (a mix of cardio, strength, and sometimes, yoga), diet (including limiting caffeine, preservatives, and staying away from grapefruits), journaling (and turning it into a side-hustle), getting plenty of sleep, and yes, taking medications as directed.
I say this to make it clear that I’m not asking for a free mental health ride or a special pass or an exception because I’m not willing to take the challenge. I am not afraid to put in the work. I know that the work is an essential side-dish to the meds.
My anxiety is not pandemic-related. I am not having a hard time adjusting to this new yet permanent work-from-home world. I am not plagued by the hormones of a fifty-something-year-old (though I am still plagued by hot flashes). This isn’t about an empty nest or a mid-life crisis or due to stress in my personal life. I have had anxiety for a long, long time, so I have a very clear understanding of what works and what does not for me.
The note stated that my current meds, the ones that actually work, will now be erased from my docket because my company has deemed them “too expensive”. This is terrifying, disheartening, and laughable. Our CEO is worth billions. Our company has just been named “Nicest Place to Work” by Newsweek. Each quarter we get a peppy email about how ah-mazing we are doing. Best quarter ever! Record-breaking revenue! Nicest place to work!
Three days after I received the letter, my request to refill my prescription was denied approval by my insurers. I had one more refill which I rushed to obtain. We are required to go with 90-day prescriptions (more cost-efficient), so I quickly hit the button to buy some time. My two-week window? Closed, evidently, before I even opened the envelope. I called our benefits department for help, as directed by the letter. The response? Yes, what a bummer, but I could always pay out of my own pocket or with a savings card. Yes, I could. I am lucky. But what about our other employees who got the same letter and aren’t able to pay? What about those who weren’t willing or able to dedicate a large slab of blood, sweat, and tears to fighting back?
I won the battle. I made calls, I pleaded, I connected my physician with my insurance folks, I begged and I scrambled, all while feeling the growing stress brought on by many responses of “no” before I finally got a “yes.” Kind of. I got a one-year approval. This means I can either spend the next twelve months praying that this doesn’t happen again, test-driving several other medication options, or looking for a new job.
It’s not that I don’t want to be a good sport or a team player. It’s just that I know our company has been turning the cost-saving screws for years and it seems that the screws are now tight enough to begin pushing ah-mazing employees out the door. Good grief, we haven’t even re-opened most of our pre-pandemic offices (keep those costs down!). Our sales teams are still restricted from travel (keep those costs down!). For the traveler that lives in my house and also works for the same company, that is a saving of several thousand dollars per month (you’re welcome). Sure, the isolation is slowly driving us all to a state of mental mush, but at least we’re saving money for our beloved billionaire.
Nicest Place to Work? I’m just not sure for whom.
Jyl Barlow is an American writer. Her debut What to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting, a memoir about her path as a (step)mom), was released in February 2023 and is available from Amazon. Jyl lives in Virginia, USA with her husband and two (step)children. Get to know her at jylbarlow.com and follow her stories on whichwaysup.blog.