Zero Refills, written, directed, and edited by Eli Lederberg, captures in vivid detail the glaring issues with the American medical system that negatively affects so many of its population. It follows Lee (Josh Keller) at a pharmacy attempting to get a refill for his prescription and learning that his insurance has changed his policy so that they no longer cover the medicine he requires, all unbeknownst to him. He is caught completely by surprise when Natasha (Joyia Bradley), the manager of the pharmacy, informs him of this change and suggests he pay for it out of pocket as discussions with the insurance agency could take more time than he has, given he needs them immediately. Naturally, it’s an obscene amount of money for a simple prescription and far outside his budget. Natasha cuts him a deal and offers to refill just enough for a couple of days for the price of what his co-pay typically is, leaving Lee completely in the dark, not knowing if his insurance will cover it again in the future.
What Zero Refills aims to address in my opinion, and does so successfully, are the completely fraudulent and oppressive healthcare systems America currently has in place. While Natasha is the immediate roadblock in this narrative, she isn’t the antagonist – she is doing all she is authorized to do and states she is even going beyond that. When restrictions like this are in place to actively prevent medical professionals from assisting their patients, it’s a systemic issue that only serves to oppress the people unable to pay for the help themselves. But Lederberg takes it even a layer deeper by implying that Lee is suffering from a mental illness. Lee shows signs of a panic attack and states that without this prescription that he could quite literally die from withdrawal if he goes too long without it. The film ends with Lee stepping outside, glaring at his open swiss army knife, and re-entering the pharmacy – implying an act of violence either upon himself or those within the store. And of course, the individual is ultimately responsible for their actions but there are preventative measures that can be taken that could remove the possibility of something like form happening in the first place.
Zero Refills is a commentary on the utter abandonment of those struggling with mental illness and those who can’t afford healthcare on their own – bringing awareness to the narrative society draws when people in desperate situations are pushed to do something drastic. Lederberg captures such raw emotion and genuine struggle in this single-location short film that I think anyone living in America could understand and relate to on some level. And while it is bleak, I believe this is the only appropriate approach when tackling this subject matter – the American healthcare system is failing people who are suffering every day and this film is a brutal reminder of just one of the many negative effects this can have on society.