‘It was either pay rent, buy food or pay for medication’
A retiree’s stark account of juggling expenses to cover vital medication lays bare the harsh reality faced by seniors in Bermuda as the cost of living creeps higher.
The 66-year-old, who retired last year after a life in retail, told The Royal Gazette: “When I was growing up, the emphasis was never that much on money for retirement.
“You moved in with your family. People helped each other out. But now it’s different.”
She listed Age Concern among the helping agencies that helped her to navigate life on her own in an ever more expensive island.
The woman, who asked not to be named, described the struggle to keep afloat to highlight the urgency for the seniors’ charity to top up its hardship fund.
Since retirement, Age Concern has come to her rescue with assistance such as a $200 voucher for food, temporary coverage for her medication — and training in how to budget.
“If you do it correctly, it works out sometimes,” she said of her calculation of expenses. “A while back, before I knew about places to get my meds for less, it was either pay rent, buy food or pay for medication.
“So I came to the conclusion I had to cover rent. And then I just juggled.”
She described tracking down pharmacies to help with discounts or sourcing generic medicines, and getting aid from the Lady Cubitt Compassionate Association.
Other assistance has come from the Bermuda Red Cross, as well as Open Airways, the asthma advocacy group, which connected her with donors to provide hypoallergenic bedding.
“You have to plan,” she said. “Once I retired, I found everything was tight.
“You have to hit the phone. Get on the iPad, e-mail places. They can only say yes or no.”
After sourcing meals from charities, she added: “With whatever money you have left over, you can get fresh vegetables at the supermarket.”
She is currently uninsured, saying that even the modest rise in the FutureCare premium last year had made the seniors’ insurance package “unaffordable”.
“When you don’t have insurance, it’s harder to get the medical attention you need. But I have a wonderful doctor, Mahesh Reddy, who looks out for my welfare.”
She added she hoped to eke out enough from her voluntary and government pensions to regain health insurance next year, which will be enough to cut costs on her medicine.
“At one point I thought of applying for Financial Assistance,” she said. “But it was so stressful. It was a nightmare.
“I understand they have to do a job. They check who is lying and who is telling the truth. But all that pressure is on the person, with all it takes to go to Financial Assistance and just drop your life in front of them.”
She said the stress of being vetted by Financial Assistance had left her hesitant — so far — to look at other subsidies where her circumstances might face scrutiny.
“I just have to look out for myself and find out what’s available.”
The senior described tensions with her previous landlord, who failed to maintain her lodgings but still withheld her deposit over the condition of the studio when she moved out in September.
“My friends had cleaned the place up for me,” she said. “In the end she gave me back $110. She took the rest of the money.”
She recalled her landlord had been unaware there was no hot water in the apartment’s “makeshift” kitchen.
But she had earlier applied for accommodation with the Bermuda Housing Trust, which provides affordable housing for seniors, and offered her a place earlier in the summer.
The senior described unsettling prospects for the future, especially with pension funds said to be running low, but added she would not be trying her luck by moving to Britain, as unknown numbers of Bermudians have chosen.
“It’s not about running off to the UK,” she said. “I said, you know what, I’ll stay here and see how I can manage.”
She said she was alarmed to hear that Bermuda’s working population had shrunk, while the numbers of seniors continues to climb, to the point that the island would soon be unable to finance itself.
Jason Hayward, the economy and labour minister, warned last month that the island had to boost its working population by more than 8,400 over the next five years.
“They’re saying pensions will no longer be there,” she said. “There’s not enough young people working to contribute, and then there’s families leaving because of the high cost of living.
“But I’ve been paying pension all my life. My thing is, where did that money go?”
The senior spoke with the Gazette to boost a campaign by Age Concern to raise money for its hardship fund.
But she added: “I don’t want to put pressure on business or people. They worked for what they got.
“Young people need to in some way try and find money to put aside.
“Look before you decide to retire. See what’s available — and work with what you have.”
• To learn more about Age Concern’s hardship programme, which provides short-term financial support for qualifying older adults aged 50 and older, visit the charity’s website here.