Mom rations medication after losing job, insurance

Shea Taylor removed a shoe-box-size container from her refrigerator and opened it to show syringes prefilled with Copaxone, a drug to prevent her multiple sclerosis from flaring up.

“This is a 30-day supply and costs $2,500,” the single mom said. “I’m trying to make it last as long as I can by giving myself shots every other day. I’m supposed to inject it every day.”

Her mother, Cindy Taylor, stood beside her while Shea’s son, Marcus, and his cousin did homework at the kitchen table.

Both women, who ordinarily have radiant wide smiles, looked somber.

“As a mom, I don’t like her skipping her medication,” Cindy said. “Shea’s father and I want to help, but $2,500 is too steep for us.”

For the first time in her life, Taylor is unemployed after being laid off from her administrative assistant job in late May.

Losing her job meant she lost her health insurance. COBRA would have been prohibitively expensive and her unemployment income was slightly too high for Medi-Cal coverage. She found a program to supply her MS medicine for a few months, but she has exhausted that coverage. She’s pinning her hopes for medication on the Affordable Care Act, while she continues to job hunt.

100-plus applications

“I’ve applied for over 100 jobs in a 30-mile radius,” she said. “All the communication now is so different than the last time I was looking several years ago. Everything is Internet. You can’t talk to anybody. It’s a lot harder to get that person-to-person contact.”

With no computer at home, she makes daily trips to her parents’ house or the library to get online.

She’s hopeful about a position through a temporary agency that could lead to permanent placement.

Taylor’s unemployment income is about half what she brought home from her job. She’s made it stretch, but still was having problems coming up with the $940 a month for her tidy two-bedroom garden apartment in a small complex near the freeway in Fairfield.

The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund paid one month’s rent, which gave her a little breathing room.

“It was definitely helpful,” she said. “It helped me … get over that little hump. I could grocery shop and pay my whole PG&E bill instead of just paying half. And I was able to get ahead on my next month’s rent.”

Her parents – Cindy is a title officer; Hank is an environmental worker at Kaiser – live nearby and are a strong source of support, but their financial resources are tight as well.

Graduation delayed

Taylor, 33, has weathered some hard times. Marcus, who turned 16 last week, was born when she was just 17. A sophomore in high school, he likes baseball games with his buddies, hanging out at the mall and playing video games. While his dad is a part-time presence in his life, Marcus and Shea are clearly very close. “I was pregnant at his age,” Shea said. “He understands how hard that was.”

Although she stayed in high school right up until she went into labor, Taylor fell behind from the birth and some complications.

“I wanted to make sure I was not just another young girl that dropped out,” she said. She doubled up on her studies, took college courses for additional credits and graduated just a few months late.

“We’re proud of her,” Cindy said. “She has worked since she was 16. Not working these past few months has been really hard on her.”

Taylor credits her loving parents and their strong work ethic for helping her “to become a responsible adult.”

At age 24, episodes of vertigo and blurred vision led to a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS, a form of the chronic disease in which patients have attacks of neurologic malfunctions followed by stable periods with few or no symptoms. After a number of years, it often evolves into a progressive state in which symptoms persist and increase.

“That turned my world upside down,” she said. “I was scared.”

It’s been a couple of years since her last flareup, and Shea is determined that her disease will not keep her from reaching her goals.

“I have MS; MS does not have me or define me,” she said. “I do not think of having MS as a disability, it is more like every now and then I hit a bump in the road.”


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Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @csaid

 The original article can be found here.