Crystal Condo: first-hand experience with high medication costs

We recently spoke with Crystal Condo, the sole Patient Financial Advocate at Northern Maine Medical Center. In just two years, Crystal singlehandedly increased the number of patients served from 10 per year to over 150 per year.

Despite this immense responsibility, Crystal tells us her patients make it all worthwhile. In our discussion, Crystal shares how her firsthand experience with high healthcare costs inspires her work, and what has brought her joy during COVID-19.

What is most rewarding about your job as a patient financial advocate?

The most rewarding part of my job is helping patients find ways to pay for their treatments. I tell patients to let me worry about the financial piece so that they can focus on getting better.

What is unique about your team at Northern Maine Medical Center?

I ended up in congestive heart failure because I couldn’t afford my medications, so I know firsthand how my patients feel. I have been in their shoes, and that motivates me to do whatever I can to help them afford their medications.

Currently, I don’t have a team. I run the department solo. Our hospital is small and rural, so that enables me to build a real relationship with the patients I help. Our small size also requires me to provide a one-stop-shop. I am a Certified Application Counselor and State Health Insurance Assistance Program Certified as well. I make the process simple for my patients because they have one point of contact instead of having to deal with multiple people.

What sacrifices are patients making when they can’t afford their medications?

For my patients with Medicare Part D, the beginning of the year is a scary time because of the high deductibles they will have to meet. Patients have told me they will go without their medications because they can’t afford them.

Tell us about a patient you’ve helped.

I have a patient that receives PAN assistance for her expensive inhalers. Before receiving a PAN grant, the patient would not use her inhalers as prescribed to extend how long they would last. These cost-cutting measurers exacerbated her asthma, and as a result, she was hospitalized several times. My patients are beyond grateful to PAN, and they can’t get over how easy the whole process is.

How have you managed to find joy in these challenging times?

Helping patients through this crisis has brought joy to my life. Every grant I secure feels like a small victory. I hear every day how much of a difference it makes for my patients.