Being sick is expensive, especially when your illness causes you to lose your job. Essqulena Brown accumulated more than $300,000 in medical bills when she was diagnosed with lupus in 2012, and she’s still working to pay that back.
Before her diagnosis, life was going well. She was the breadwinner of her family, and had just obtained her master’s degree. She and her husband lived in Clinton, where they had a home, car, and necessities.
In March 2021, Essqulena began feeling sick. She frequently visited her primary care doctor, who prescribed different medicines and antibiotics. Over three months, she experienced fevers, felt weaker, more tired, and worse overall. Doctors could not diagnose her condition.
When it was time for summer vacation, Essqulena still didn’t have a diagnosis, and despite not feeling well, she went to Florida with her family. Unfortunately, she began to feel extremely sick and broke out in red bumps, prompting her to go to the Emergency Room. The ER doctors urged the family to let them keep her since they had to fly back home, but they decided to take Essqulena home. Upon returning home, Essqulena went to a medical center, where she stayed for two weeks, but still no diagnosis.
Her condition worsened to a point where she ran fevers in the hundreds daily, so on August 9, the day after her birthday, she went to another medical center, where she stayed until December 21. Toward the end of her five-month stay, they diagnosed her with lupus in October. She started chemo immediately, completing three rounds before leaving the hospital.
Of course, Essqulena was unable to work during this time. Initially, she was on medical leave, but after a while, the company had to let her go. Losing her job also meant losing her insurance. She had to wait to be approved for disability to apply for Medicaid and Medicare to continue medical care. However, the bills kept coming, and she accumulated $300,000 in medical bills. The chemo treatments alone were $67,000 per treatment.
The family’s financial woes didn’t stop piling up until Essqulena left the hospital. And without her working, the family took a significant hit. They lost their car and home and had no choice but to move to the family home in Louise, in the Mississippi Delta.
Being in the Delta without medical insurance made things difficult for Essqulena and her family. There are limited doctors in the Delta and even fewer specialists. She had to go to Jackson, an hour and a half ride each way, three to four times a week for her chemo treatments, rheumatologist appointments, and other doctor visits.
With no insurance or Medicaid, she had to rely on her husband, who would have to take off work, and friends and family to take her back and forth to these appointments. The family had to ask friends and family to sit with Essqulena since they couldn’t bring in a private sitter. Within months of waiting on her disability approval, her whole reality had changed. She lost everything as she fought to make ends meet and get her needed care.
Thankfully, the following March, things started to look up for Essqulena. Medicaid finally approved her. But there were significant limitations. Medicaid only covered up to five prescriptions. Essqulena was on 14. So, she and her husband had to pay for the other nine out of pocket. Additionally, Medicaid’s transportation didn’t take her to every doctor’s visit. She continued to find rides from friends and family.
In May, Medicare approved her disability insurance. The family saw significant improvements as they got a car, and things began to get back on track – the wide-ranging effect of not having healthcare reached every part of Essqulena’s life.
Her life could have remained steady if she had access to healthcare from the beginning of her hospital stay throughout her sickness. She could have kept the lifestyle she worked so hard to obtain. However, without it, her whole family was flipped upside down, impacting her entire life and those around her.