Paying to Breathe

Last updated: April 2023

One of our community members commented: “What frustrates me the most is paying to breathe.” And I have to say I agree with this. It is very frustrating when you have to pay to breathe, and it does seem that this is exactly what we asthmatics have to do.

Paying to breathe: Costs associated with asthma

Daily asthma control

The cost of just staying alive is quite extreme, and I know I am not alone here in expressing this.

Thankfully I have good insurance. Or, should I say, I have “decent” insurance. And it helps me afford the following meds that I take (must take) every day to control my asthma.

  • Symbicort: $50 copay
  • Ventolin: $50 copay (or a $16 copay for the generic version)
  • Singulair: $15 for a 3-month supply (This is due to the generic being on the market. Before generics were available, the cost was up there with the price of Symbicort.)

So, these are just my asthma medicines. I have other medicines that I take daily to control my other conditions, such as blood pressure medicine. Although, and thankfully, the cost of most of these medicines is rather small (such as what I pay for Singulair). So, in total, to control my asthma (and thus stay alive, per se) my minimum monthly cost is $81.

Actually, that may not sound so bad. I am well aware that many of you have to fork out way more money for your daily medicine regimen than I do.

Asthma episodes

Asthma episodes come with their own costs. So, if I have a severe asthma attack, I will require a burst of corticosteroids. And I don’t think that they cost too much. I would guess around $15 or $20. Often I am prescribed an antibiotic, and I think the cost there is minimal too. So, let’s say an asthma episode costs me $30 in medicine.

However, if I require a doctor’s visit, that is a $40 copay. If I require an emergency room (ER) visit, that is an $80 copay. And ER visits often come with tests. And, if I did not meet my deductible yet, I have to pay that. So, to put this in perspective, my last ER visit for asthma cost me $800 out-of-pocket.

And that’s with “decent” insurance.

Unseen costs

What I just described are the seen costs. There are also unseen costs that come into play. Unseen costs involve the money we do not make because we are unable to work due to our asthma.

I have been kind of fortunate in that I have not missed out on a lot of work due to asthma. And even when I do have to miss a few days, I have a lot of paid time off saved up. So, I usually get my full check regardless of my asthma. That’s one of the perks of being a respiratory therapist.

Still, many of us asthmatics miss days of work or school. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), $3 billion is lost to missed work and school days due to asthma flare-ups. So, that’s quite a big chunk of money. Even at the individual level, it’s a pretty huge chunk of money that one person with asthma loses due to asthma on a yearly basis.1

What about you?

I had horrible asthma as a kid. My dad insisted I go to college and get a good job, and he recommended this because:

  • He wanted me to get a job that helped me avoid my asthma triggers
  • He wanted to make sure I had insurance to afford my asthma treatment

So, that is why I was the first person in my family to go to college. As a respiratory therapist, I work for a large hospital group that offers “decent” insurance. Although, even with "decent" insurance, I think I still pay a lot to live with asthma.

But, I am well aware that many of you pay more, and in some cases a ton more.

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