If you have a disease like rheumatoid arthritis, your prescription drugs could cost as much as $2,000 per month which could quickly sink any family’s finances. But just because you can’t afford to fill your prescription, doesn’t mean you have to do without.
The other day, I had some prescriptions filled for my family and the cost was $500. Imagine having to spend four times that each month. but if you get accepted into one of these programs, you might get your prescriptions filled, for free, for the rest of your life.
Imagine having your doctor prescribe a drug so expensive that you’re forced to choose between filling the prescription and putting food on the table.
“I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. It’s like $14,000 per year if I were to pay for it myself,” says Shirley Hoven.
And yet not getting the medication you need could severely cut your quality of life or even kill you.
“If one skips a dose, the medicine will not be effective,” says Dr. Rich Sagall of www.needymeds.com
Unfortunately, skipping doses, cutting pills in half or simply doing without is an every day occurrance for the nearly 42 million Americans without health insurance. It’s also a fact of life for millions of seniors on Medicare, but whose supplemental insurance doesn’t cover prescription drugs.
“That’s the fight in Washington,” says Charles Johnson of the Illinois Department on Aging.
As Congress debates adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare, millions of prescription aren’t being filled. But there are little-known programs available called patient assistance programs or Medicare assistance programs.
“Last year, these programs have helped over 5 million people giving out over 14 million prescriptions with a wholesale value of more than $2.3 billion worth of drugs,” Dr. Sagall says.
On his website,www.needymeds.com, Dr. Sagall and a part-time researcher keep a list of all the major drug companies and the patient assistance and Medicare assistance programs they sponsor. Since the site went live in 1997, more than 2.5 million people have searched it.
“There are a lot of people who unfortunately fall through the cracks and can’t afford their medications,” Dr. Sagall says.
Abbott Labs offers up most of its drugs to seniors and those who can’t afford their medication.
“If you look at the patient assistance programs and Medicare assistance programs, we have over 120,000 patients who received free drugs through September, with almost $50 million in value,” says Tim Walbert, of Abbott Labs.
One reason many of those who qualify for these programs don’t take advantage of them is they don’t even know the programs exist. And that’s how some drug companies like it.
“We have a number that are very cooperative and email us when they have changes to the program. We’ve had others that are uncooperative and really don’t want to tell us about their programs. We’ve had some that requested we take their company information off the website,” Dr. Sagall says.
Another problem is that your doctor has to help you get access to a patient assistance program. People who can’t afford their medication often can’t afford a visit to the doctor. And if they do get there, the subject of affordability might not come up.
“They are too ashamed to say they cannot afford the medications,” Dr. Sagall says.
And finally, seniors don’t usually take just one medication.
“It’s not one or two prescriptions, sometimes its 3, 4 or 5 different prescriptions that they’re taking,” Johnson says.
Which figuring out who makes the drug, finding out if that company offers it under a patient assistance program and then filling out the paperwork, Shirley Hovel pays $500 per month for the other drugs she needs in addition to Humira.
“My social security takes care of my medication,” Shirley says.
Which doesn’t leave her a lot of cash for anything else each month, particularly not a drug that costs $14,000 per year. But being part of Abbott’s Medicare assistance program has given her back tremendous quality of life.
“It jst feels good to feel good. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this drug,” Shirley says.
And it’s hard to put a price tag on that.
There are many other discount drug programs available to Illinois residents who qualify, including Target R/X, which is a discount drug card program. And several programs run through the Illinois Department on Aging. Even if you’re not a senior, that might be a good place to start because the staff is trained to help you look for every program that you might qualify for based on age or your finances.
www.needymeds.com (Dr. Rich Sagall, Founder and webmaster)
www.togetherrx.com (Together RX is a prescription drug discount card program)
WEBSITES THAT CAN LINK YOU TO PATIENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS AND MEDICARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
www.benefitscheckup.org (Finds programs for people aged 55 and over that may pay some of the costs of prescription drugs, health care, utilities and other services)
SPECIAL HELP FOR ILLINOIS RESIDENTS There are three programs that can help Illinois residents who cannot afford their prescription drugs:
Illinois Seniorcare, Circuit Breaker/Pharmaceutical Assistance and A New Discount Drug Card (goes into effect January 1, 2004). For more information, link to the following websites or use these phone numbers.
Illinois Department on Aging HEALTH BENEFITS HOTLINE: 800-226-0768 (TTY: 877-204-1012) SENIOR HELPLINE: 800-252-8966
www.seniorcareillinois.com (800) 624-2459