By Mark David Blum, Esq.
A family friend who recently lost their medical insurance coverage was telling me about his trials and tribulations in dealing with a monthly prescription debt of more than $700.00. Between himself and his wife, they are on lifelong medical prescriptions that alone cost nearly as much as a family medical insurance plan. As our conversation deepened, I learned of how he was able to reduce that actual cost to near zero dollars.
America’s pharmaceutical industry is among the largest pigs at the trough when it comes to sucking down huge amounts of medical insurance tax dollars. The cost of drugs in this nation is off the charts when it comes to paying retail. I understand the logic behind charging tens of dollars for a single pill that cost tenths of a penny to manufacture because while the pill itself cost so little, the first pill of the genre probably cost millions of dollars in research and expenditures. Drug companies are publicly traded and owe a duty to their shareholders to maximize profits and create new markets.
At the same time it turns out that some of these same pharmaceutical companies have found a heart. Astra Zeneca being first among them; these companies have developed programs for those unable to pay for medications by providing the drugs for free or nearly free of charge for qualifying incomes. Before you jump to conclusions, I believe the cut off is approximately $50,000.00 annual income for a family. At that number or below, drug manufacturers are willing to provide a full year supply of medicine and the cost is zero or near zero dollars.
Apparently it was not easy to engage these programs. First you have to hunt. From what I was told, it took hours and hours of telephone, internet research, paperwork, and working with physicians to get the programs in order. Regardless of whether the medications were simple blood pressure pills or a controlled substance, the manufacturers were ready willing and able to provide these substances directly to the patient for no cost. I say kudos to them.
I was told this started with investigating the program advertised on television by Montel Williams called ‘PPA’ or Prescription Partnership for America. That was a clearing house for the various programs offered by the several pharmaceutical manufacturers. Once they were contacted and credentials were checked, referrals were made to the specific drug manufacturer who then required an application, a prescription, proof of identity, and in just one case, a check for $30.00 for a year’s worth of medication.
I heard on the news yesterday that Governor Paterson announced a similar program for the State of New York. Our governor claimed that, “the buying power of the State of New York” was responsible for the State’s ability to acquire at or below cost prescriptions for those who would qualify. Having heard my friend’s tale beforehand, I could not help but be incensed at the audacity of the governor to take credit for a program that was already in place and which does not require the State to involve itself in a citizen’s personal finances. The State program may indeed be beneficial but I doubt the program is doing anything more than what was already being offered by the private sector.
Another trick I learned from my friends was the nature of competition amongst the various pharmacies in our area. Prices for a single drug can vary widely depending on the pharmacy. In a move to keep patients dealing with them, Rite Aid pharmacists have promised to match any price of any pharmacy anywhere. I was told that one drug costs as much as $300.00 at one pharmacy while the price at another was $80.00. Rite Aid called and confirmed the lower price and sold the drug to the patient for the lesser cost. Kudos to them.
It all takes a little shopping. Wegmans offers free generic antibiotics only. Walmart, Kmart, and Target pharmacies have a $4.00 plan with each having its own list of drugs being offered for that price. Target goes so far as to offer $4.00 per month or $10.00 for three months for certain listed drugs.
The bottom line is that America’s pharmaceutical industry is waking up to the clarion call for reasonableness in the market. I have no clue as to what the various manufacturers charge insurance companies, Medicare, or Medicaid. But the drug providers have responded to individual needs and recognized the impact of high drug costs versus going without. Americans should never have to choose between eating and having their lifesaving medications.
As I sit here in my comfortable chair I cannot help but think of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Listening to my friend’s efforts and ultimate result convinces me that perhaps the drug companies are not as greedy and selfish as perceived. If you are among those whose medication costs are hurting your ability to live or eat, then do the work. Apparently there is great reward for the effort made. For that reason I give up the bandwidth to publicly thank America’s pharmaceutical manufacturers and our local pharmacies for their efforts to bring the cost of drugs under control.