More People Applying For Drug-Assistance Programs

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

As the "slowing economy swells the ranks of the unemployed -- and uninsured -- more people are getting help from prescription drug assistance programs normally aimed at providing medications to the poorest Americans," the Wall Street Journal reports. The programs, sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, provide consumers with billions of dollars worth of no-cost drugs every year.

Most of these programs require that applicants have incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, but as "the economy weakens," more people are getting approved, the Journal reports. Many programs require that applicants provide tax statements or other proof of income, a prescription or letter from a physician, or proof that Medicaid has refused to pay for the drug. However, patient advocates say people should not assume they do not qualify because many programs have raised their minimum income levels and other programs focus on an applicant's percentage of income spent on prescription drugs rather than total income.

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a service of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, reports that it helped more than 100,000 people enroll in public and private drug-assistance programs in recent months, an 11% increase from earlier this year. Since 2005, PhRMA's 35 member firms have provided $13 billion in no-cost drugs, Ken Johnson, a spokesperson for PhRMA, said, adding, "These programs have always been designed to be a safety net, but more and more people are falling into it."


In addition, drug-assistance programs are reporting a change in the type of applicants. AstraZeneca, which has seen increased requests for all of its assistance programs, has had applications from insured people who are unable to afford drug copayments and Medicare beneficiaries "who run up against coverage gaps," the Journal reports. Kimberly Chmielewski, executive director of the Community Pharmacy of Sarasota in Sarasota County, Fla., said, "We saw a lot of laborers, construction industry and real-estate people at the beginning of the year," adding, "Now it's more professionals, more people who've been laid off by large employers and who've just had to give up their health benefits."

Johnson said drugmakers are willing to further expand their programs in response to growing demand. He said, "We believe in the free-market health care system, and that system is at risk if more and more people fall through the cracks."

According to the Journal, the drug-assistance programs originally were developed for public relations purposes but also have become useful as a marketing tool, "particularly as companies struggle to come out with new products and consumers have trouble paying for them." By giving people their drugs at no cost, the firms hope consumers continue to use their brands once they acquire coverage or become able to pay for their medications (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 10/21).

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