web page consultants:
|12-26-02: Agency helps area people
with drug expenses
|Prescriptions take big chunk of senior citizens' incomes
This is the first in a series of three stories on problems created by
the high cost of prescription drugs, some solutions and suggestions and Ohio's attempt to
address the problem after the failure of the U.S. Congress to do so.
By PAT ROYSE
The Daily Standard
Roy Russell of Rockford had been paying more than half of his $762
monthly income for the prescription drugs to treat his multiple health ailments for some
But thanks to Gloria Miller at the Mercer County Council on Aging, the
85-year-old said he found a patient assistance program run by a drug manufacturer that
allows him to get the drug for his emphysema, normally costing more than $100 for a 30-day
supply, for $5 instead. The program is run by GlaxcoWellcome.
His total monthly $393 drug cost - which he said was once nearly $500 -
"If it wouldn't have been for Gloria, I would have been
hurting," Russell said.
He can use the GlaxcoWellcome card only on one of his prescriptions,
which is the pattern with most of the drug manufacturers' assistance programs. Typically,
the approval lasts for three months, then Russell and others on similar programs will have
Miller is working on other programs for a couple of Russell's other
Russell was born in Kossuth, worked first in the paper mill in St.
Marys, and when that closed, in a uniform factory there. His last job was at an insulation
company in Mendon and Indiana, which he thinks might have contributed to his later
He is being treated for emphysema, a bleeding ulcer and Lupus, he said.
Russell in the past has had shingles and was operated on in 1986 for prostate cancer. But
he feels pretty good and alert, he said, although he admits to occasional memory loss. He
said he has no problem driving; it is the walk from his Rockford Villa Apartment at
419 N. Holly Drive to his parked car that leaves him short of breath and restricts his
His four adult children are somewhat scattered, a son and a daughter in
Florida, a daughter in New Bremen and a son in Delphos. He still makes the drive to visit
those closest occasionally.
Russell agreed to talk about his prescription cost woes and the help he
found through the council so others in his situation would know they also might find some
relief in the manufacturers' patient assistance programs.
He is not alone in his struggle to pay for prescription drugs.
Prescription drugs are now an important part of medical treatment but
drug prices are rising at a rate three times faster than inflation. The amount spent for
medicine has increased significantly with average retail prescription costing more than
$45 in 2000 and probably higher now.
According to an article in the AARP Bulletin last spring, "Older
adults spend more than $700 a year filling prescriptions, almost twice the national
It hurts those most who have multiple or chronic conditions and who may
need several kinds of drugs, reports a staff member in a local doctor's office who did not
want to be identified. "Multiple medications can wipe out a Social Security check in
no time at all," she said.
Just ask Nora Elsworth, 83, who lives with her daughter Alice Spahr at
226 Forest Drive, Celina.
Elsworth has multiple breathing problems (emphysema, asthma and
allergies) for which she takes at least three prescriptions, as well as
using an inhaler and other breathing treatments. She was spending $641 of
her $1,210 monthly Social Security check on prescription drugs and
Now, her cost is 40 percent less than it was a short while ago.
After hearing of the help the Council on Aging might be able to
she applied with Miller's help for the Together Rx card. The card combines
the programs of eight pharmaceutical companies and discounts the cost of drugs 20 to 40
Another senior citizen, with multiple problems, also found out about
the Together Rx from Miller. The 85-year-old, who didn't want to be identified, said she
was being treated for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arthritis. With the
discount card, the last time she filled her prescriptions it cost her only $41 a month,
half of what she had been paying.
At doctors' offices, staff members worry that with increased publicity
on patient assistance programs offered by drug companies, they will be overwhelmed with
requests and paperwork.
"The drug companies are trying hard to help those people who fall
between the cracks," said one staffer. "But they are not giving away free
medicine. These programs are primarily for the truly indigent."
A news story on the manufacturers' patient assistance programs in the
Wall Street Journal in July 2000 said the companies gave away or discounted a total of
$2.8 million in prescription and gave away samples totaling $500 million in 1998. By
comparison, however, U.S. prescriptions sales that same year reached more than $125
In its newsletter, The Medicare Rights Center in New York City said 48
percent of people on Medicare in 1999 did not have prescription drug coverage of any kind
and almost half of all seniors have incomes of less than $15,000 per year, which is still
higher than the federal poverty level.
Most, but not all, of the drug manufacturers' programs apply to those
whose household income falls below the federal poverty level (which in most states is
$8,860) and who have no other prescription drug coverage. Excessive drug expenses are
sometimes taken into account.
Almost all are for seniors who are on Medicare insurance, although a
few may apply to those on disability assistance also. They may require proof of income
status, such as copies of social security checks, tax forms and other income verification.
They may be lengthy, as well. It is up to the seniors to do the research.
Said one staffer from a local doctor's office, "We don't really
ask these kinds of questions. We don't invade their privacy." She also warned some
programs apply only to a certain diagnosis. So if a drug is used to treat more than one
thing, the program may not apply.
So far, doctors' staff members have helped when they can. But drugs and
programs change so often and they already have other paperwork responsibilities, so if
requests increase much they may not be able to continue to fill out the patient assistance
Miller will help with the forms but patients also have some
responsibility. The forms must include a copy of the prescription. The drugs themselves
are often sent to the doctor's office or to the health or social service agent verifying
the application. Miller can act as such an advocate/representative for at least one of the
programs, but each program has its own rules, she said.
Finding the right program is a nightmare for most seniors, Miller said.
They are ultimately responsible for researching the manufacturer of the drug prescribed
and getting the form from the company if she doesn't have one on hand. (She has a few but
not nearly all.) She suggests checking out the Physicians Desk Reference at the local
library where seniors also can use the computers to gather more information.
Then, Miller says the patient must remember to reapply when the
assistance runs out, usually at three months, and get the physicians signature on the
renewal forms and copies of any income proof, if required.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American (PhRMA) puts
out a Directory of Patient Assistance Programs and the 2002 copy obtained by The Daily
Standard from NeedyMeds.com listed 56 different programs and 56 sets of rules. It is
available free at 800-762-4636 or Medicare.gov (click on prescription drug
assistance programs), as well as NeedyMeds.com.
Based on the pamphlet and on a quick scan of the programs, some require
documentation of income and some will take your word via signature.
The Medicine Program at 573-996-7300 (www.themedicineprogram.com)
will do some research for you for a $5 fee if you need it.
There also is help from the state at www.ohioaging.org, which identifies
several links that make recommendations to help with prescription drug costs, including
the NeedyMeds site.
In Part II of the series on Friday: What the state program, which is
not income based, will do and who pays for it.
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