A Washington state couple was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide Wednesday left behind notes revealing that they had been struggling under the weight of medical bills they could not afford to pay.
Around 8:30 a.m., the 77-year-old husband called 911 and said, “I am going to shoot myself,” according to a statement from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. He explained that he would leave behind instructions and information for authorities, adding, “We will be in the front bedroom.”
Though the dispatcher attempted to keep the man on the line, he hung up. About 15 minutes later, deputies arrived at the couple’s home and discovered the man lying next to his 76-year-old wife. Both were dead from apparent gunshot wounds.
The Whatcom County medical examiner identified the deceased as Brian Jones and Patricia Whitney-Jones, The Washington Post reported.
“Several notes were left citing severe ongoing medical problems with the wife and expressing concerns that the couple did not have sufficient resources to pay for medical care,” the sheriff’s office said. The deceased also provided Information about next of kin.
“It is very tragic that one of our senior citizens would find himself in such desperate circumstances where he felt murder and suicide were the only option,” Sheriff Bill Elfo said.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a champion of “Medicare for All” who frequently criticizes skyrocketing prescription drug costs, spoke out about the case on Twitter, calling on the nation to move “forward in guaranteeing health care as a right.”
“Tragic stories like this do not occur in any major country on Earth except for ours.”
In April, a study from Gallup and West Health ― a coalition of nonprofit organizations dedicated to lowering health care costs for seniors ― estimated that 7.5 million Americans aged 65 and older are unable to pay for their prescriptions. Further complicating matters, respondents said that 80% of the medicines they cannot afford are needed to treat serious health conditions.
Given these costs, many approaching retirement age are wondering whether they can afford to stop working, the study said, pointing out an increasingly common concern among the country’s aging population.
Gallup estimates that, between 2018 and 2019, more than 6 million American seniors have had to withdraw from their savings to cover healthcare expenses, averaging about $3,500 each, at a total of $22 billion.