‘I don’t remember a time I wasn’t in pain’

Dawn Camp, seen above, has had a decades-long battle with chronic neck pain. She is insured by Medicare, but has trouble finding doctors who will accept it.

This profile is part of the series, “The New Jersey 37,” which focuses on residents making up the 37 percent of households in state that cannot afford basic needs such as health care, housing, food, child care, and transportation.

Dawn Camp struggles with chronic neck and back pain.

In the past twenty years, the 53-year-old has had numerous surgeries to help relieve the pain. A recent car accident, though, intensified her neck and back pain, leaving her in both physical pain and financial worry.

“While my car insurance paid for new back scans, I am not sure if they’ll pay for the neck and back surgery my doctor believes I need,” Camp said.

Camp cannot work because of how all-consuming the pain is. She receives health coverage through Medicare, and is currently on unemployment and disability. And while Medicare covers most medical expenses, she said her surgeon does not accept it.

With little money and insurance that won’t cover her necessary treatment, Camp said she may have to postpone treatment — the first time since she has been experiencing chronic pain in twenty years.

“The rich can afford their own insurance. … It’s the middle-class that gets screwed,” Camp said.

Keeping the lights on

Camp grew up in a working class family in Lyndhurst most of her life. Her father was a World War II veteran who dealt with personal struggles after the war. It was her mother, June, who took care of the family.

An immigrant from Liverpool, England, June worked several jobs, some of which Camp and her sisters would tag along to help. June also took care of the home and paid all the bills.

“She worked hard to make sure the lights stayed on and there was food on the table,” Camp said.

From a young age, she knew that even when you worked your hardest, the finances still piled up. Fortunately through the jobs her mother juggled, her family received health insurance.

Then, when Camp was 16, she was involved in her first serious car accident. While her hospital visit was short, the long term conditions were not. Camp suffered from chronic back and neck pain for years to follow.

“I don’t remember a time I wasn’t in pain. I used to stand with my head and neck up against a wall just to alleviate it,” Camp said.

When she was 33 years old, Camp had her first major neck surgery.

During her first marriage, Camp was able to receive high quality treatment and all the necessary coverage needed. She used a top doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City for all her major surgeries.

Over the course of her marriage, she underwent three serious surgeries which would have costed her nearly $300,000 out-of-pocket, if it wasn’t for her husband’s insurance coverage and financial status.

“During my marriage I didn’t have to think twice about getting my surgeries. They were crucial at the time and regardless of how much my insurance was willing to pay, my husband could afford the difference,” Dawn said.

New struggles

Now nearly 10 years out of her marriage, she faces new struggles. Surgeries aren’t permanent fixes, Camp said, with each procedure having an expiration date of about 10 to 20 years. However, she never thought she would consider forgoing treatment because of her finances.

While covered by Medicare, Camp is responsible for 20 percent of all Medicare’s set fees. In May of 2016, she was in the hospital for nearly 10 days with pneumonia. Without coverage her bill would have been $85,000, and while the bill was significantly reduced she is still unable to pay her portion.

Camp previously worked as a hygienist for 25 years, but had to put her career on hold when the pain became intolerable. In addition to receiving unemployment and disability benefits, she receives child support and alimony from her ex-husband.

Still, there is no room for extra expenses on her current income.

Camp finds herself in a seemingly unsolvable problem. She cannot work because of her pain, but cannot afford the surgery given her limited income and health coverage. And yet she needs the surgery in order to go back to work.

“Without this surgery, I may never be able to work as a hygienist again,” Camp said.

It is a scary reality for Camp, having to choose between struggling with daily severe neck and back pain, or opting for another, unfamiliar surgeon.

When asked if she was scared about the surgeries she needs, Camp replied in a nervous laughter, “I should be, but I’m more scared that my insurance will deny me.”