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Companies offer free or discounted prescription drugs to those in need

Normally, I’m not a drug pusher. But today’s an exception. If you don’t have insurance or are underinsured, and are not on Medicare or Medicaid, do I have a deal for you.

Actually, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance has the deal; I’m just the messenger.

Normally, I’m not a fan of drug companies. I cringe at the millions spent on television ads trying to persuade people to ask their doctors for specific brand-name drugs. I loathe all the “grants” and “speaking fees” drug companies give doctors to encourage prescribing certain medicines.

(Naturally a bill requiring doctors to disclose these sweetheart deals publicly was disemboweled in the 2007 Legislature, despite AARP’S best efforts to get it passed. What remained was a requirement for drug companies to file a copy of their “marketing code of conduct.” Big whoop.)

Having disclosed my beefs with the pharmaceutical industry, I still have to praise the prescription assistance program sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, commonly known as PhRMA.

With today’s economy, if the Partnership for Prescription Assistance can help you, you should go for it. Here’s the contact information: www.pparx.org or 1-888-477-2669.

The drug companies want to give you free or discounted prescription drugs, if you have a prescription, of course.

Now don’t call if you’re making $100,000 a year, as some people have, according to PhRMA Vice President Ken Johnson. This is for people in need who aren’t covered by insurance or whose insurance is inadequate for their needs, or for those facing hardships.

In Nevada, uninsured couples with a combined income of less than $24,000 probably qualify; so would a family of four with an income of less than $40,000, Johnson said.

It seems like the word would be out and people would be clamoring to qualify. After all, the program is advertised on radio and television and has earned free media since it started in April 2005.

In the past four years, the program has provided $14 billion worth of free medicine to people across the United States. Although the sums are not broken down state by state, Johnson estimated 50,000 Nevadans have received help and another 100,000 could probably qualify.

Why don’t more apply, especially since 75 percent of those who ask are found eligible?

“Part of it is lack of awareness and part of it is pride. It’s real tough for some people who have been self-sufficient to ask for a helping hand,” he said. “Don’t be too proud.”

There are two typical profiles of people who receive help through the program. The first is a 55-year-old male who was laid off and suddenly is uninsured. The second is a 30-year-old mom with two jobs and two kids, but no insurance.

“We spend tens of millions of dollars advertising the program,” Johnson said. (Full disclosure: I’d never heard of it until a friend mentioned it after I said I was in the mood for a good news column.)

This program costs nothing to apply, although there are other programs that ask you for payments, either monthly or annually. Johnson advised patients to be careful of the programs that charge fees.

(The programs that charge fees, such as The Medicine Cabinet in Las Vegas, which charges $25 a month, insist their service is easier to use than PhRMA’s. I’m confident readers will let me know which one they prefer.)

Johnson couldn’t provide the name of a Nevadan who uses the program because PhRMA destroys private information after the connections are made linking patient with specific pharmaceutical companies. But he said that some patients are saving $1,000 or more a month.

Other programs exist, but Partnership for Prescription Assistance is the largest, Johnson said, because it’s an umbrella group. Instead of calling 475 different patient assistance programs, this is one-stop shopping, Johnson said.

In 2007, only 25,000 Nevadans were taking advantage of the program. The number has nearly doubled in two years, but there are still opportunities. Checking to see if you qualify takes maybe 10 minutes online or on the phone so it sounds like a program that is worth the effort.

Ten minutes to find out if you can save money sounds like time well spent, presuming you’re not too proud.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison/.

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