I started teaching over 20 years ago and have worked in Clark County schools for nearly a decade. Over the years, I have met hundreds of wonderful educators who share my passion for investing in the educational development of students.
I love what I do, but as one of the many Nevadans living with a chronic illness, I am struggling to afford the care I need under the Clark County School District health plan (the Teachers Health Trust). Without federal action to lower health care costs, I may be forced to do as many of my former colleagues have done, and leave the profession I care so deeply about.
I have been diagnosed with several autoimmune disorders, including mixed connective tissue disease and polymyalgia rheumatica. I require multiple medications to treat my conditions, including regular injections to reduce my risk of bone fractures from osteoporosis.
When I first moved to Las Vegas to teach in 2013, our health plan under the Teachers Health Trust (THT) was then called a “Cadillac” plan. Las Vegas teachers could go to the doctor as often as we wanted and could see specialists with no referral. Unfortunately, the THT has been poorly managed and amassed millions in debt, leaving teachers like me forced to pay more out-of-pocket for health care.
All of my labs and medications used to be covered under THT, but with each passing year, fewer and fewer treatments seem to be covered, leaving me without access to the care I need. Now, I have a $500 deductible for my lab tests, and I will not be able to afford all of the labs I need.
Even worse, my osteoporosis treatments are no longer covered, meaning I must foot the bill for each of my $1,500 shots. Skipping doses is simply not an option for me. I have tried to go without my medications before, and I can’t even dress myself because of the pain.
As challenging as my own costs are, many of my peers in the teaching profession have it far worse than I do. Every month, when a colleague of mine with Type 1 diabetes goes to fill her prescription for insulin, she receives the same notice: our insurance plan will not cover the specific insulin that was prescribed by her doctor and that works best for her.
I know countless teachers who have to pay hundreds of dollars every month just to get the prescriptions they need to stay alive. This is unsustainable, and it’s happening to tens of thousands of teachers and millions of families across the country.
Voters across the country say the rising cost of prescription drugs is a top concern, and according to new polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 30 percent of Americans say they have not taken their medication as prescribed because of high costs. These are dangerous choices that no one should have to make.
President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress understand this, and are working to bring down costs by introducing legislation that would cap insulin copays at $35 a month, allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, and require manufacturers to pay rebates if drug prices increase faster than inflation. Still, people like me are suffering, and we need relief.
Nevada is in the midst of a massive teacher shortage. The Clark County School District alone has more than 1,000 vacancies, a number that has grown sharply since the beginning of the school year.
It should not come as a surprise. On top of concerns about COVID, classroom safety, and burnout, Las Vegas teachers like me are worried about our health plan. Our insurance refuses to cover vital prescriptions for educators, leaving us to pay the full costs of needed drugs. Without action to lower health care costs, I worry that I will become another vacancy in the Clark County School District.
It is time to put patients and families first. Nevadans like me are counting on Congress to pass legislation to lower prescription drug costs and make health coverage more affordable for teachers and Americans nationwide. Our lives, our jobs, and our students depend on it.
Vicki Kreidel lives in North Las Vegas, where she works as a teacher in the Clark County School District and serves as the president of the National Education Association of Southern Nevada.