MIAMI (CBS4) — With the sinking economy and soaring health care costs, many people are forced to make difficult choices between medicine and other necessities. But what if you could get your prescriptions filled for a reduced cost or even free?
There is help out there including some little known programs that could make a big difference for thousands of Americans.
When Haralee Weintraub was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was not only physically and emotionally devastating, but also financially devasting, even though she had insurance.
“It ended up costing us $20,000 out of pocket from co-pays and drugs,” explained Weintraub.
There were times she considered giving up medications altogether.
“It’s very scary to have to think that, ‘Do I really need this one pill that might ease my nausea if it’s over fifty dollars. How nauseous am I?’ And that’s not great.”
Now, a growing number of state and local governments, doctors’ offices, non-profit agencies and businesses offer co-pay cards to help people like Haralee. Some are free, others have a fee.
“Co-pay cards are sort of a relatively new phenomenon. We’ve really seen an increase in pharmaceutical companies putting these out,” explained Elizabeth Messenger, the Outreach and Education Manager for NeedyMeds.org.
“Manufacturers are making a lot of effort to allow patients to stay on medicine,” said Seth Ginsberg of the Global Healthy Living Foundation. “They want to ensure the patient can afford the medicine or the co-pay of the medicine.”
The co-pay assistance cards cover about 300 medications and anyone with insurance can use them. Just bring the card to your local pharmacy and get a discount off your co-pay at the register. Haralee saves fifty dollars every time she fills her Lunesta prescription.
“So I’m saving $600 a year,” exclaimed Haralee.
A recent study in the Journal of Oncology Practice shows the more expensive the medicine the less likely people will take them. In fact, cancer patients with medication bills of more than $500 a month were four times as likely to abandon their prescriptions as those with prescriptions costing $100 a month.
“Unfortunately people are put in the tight position of choosing between two things they need – like medicine and food,” said Ginsberg.
It’s helpful that now nearly 50-percent of the brand name drugs on the market have discounts or coupons to help cushion the cost of the co-pay.
Patient advocates hope more people will discover these drug deals and take advantage of them.
As for Haralee, she said the co-pay card has made a huge difference in her life.
“Who wants to pay for something when you know someone else is getting the same thing for free?” said Haralee.
Co-pay cards are designed for people with private insurance. However, if you’re uninsured or on Medicare or Medicaid, there are other patient assistance programs that may be able to help.
Aask your doctor or pharmacist for help. You can also look at the website for the company that manufactures the drug you need or you can turn to non-profit groups such as www.needymeds.org. They list several resources that offer patient payment assistance and discount cards.
“They’ll actually offer medications for free or very discounted if you qualify,” said Messenger.