Bus stops for prescription planning
CARSON CITY – Kimberly Sanchez is between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to medical coverage. She has a job that keeps her from qualifying for most assistance programs but doesn’t provide her medical coverage.
“I can’t go without working. I make too much to get Medicaid but not enough to pay for what I need,” she said.
As a result, she has trouble affording the medication that controls her epilepsy.
But Ken Johnson, of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, says there is help available from what many would consider an unlikely source – the drug companies that make her medication.
Sanchez visited the partnership’s traveling assistance center Wednesday at the Legislative Mall and, after answering a simple list of 10 questions, was handed a list of two clinics that can provide her the necessary examination and prescription plus six associations and drug companies that may supply her the medications she needs.
And the medicine, Johnson said, may be free.
She was one of a number of people who visited the partnership’s “Help is Here Express” in Carson City. The bus staff saw more than 100 people in Reno on Tuesday and planned to visit Hawthorne, Tonopah and Las Vegas before heading back toward California this week.
Cheryl Warren also visited the bus, but not for herself. As a state employee, she has medical and drug coverage, but said her 77-year-old mother doesn’t.
“She’s on like 10 different medicines and it costs like $1,300 a month,” she said. “She lives with us so I definitely wanted to check it out.”
She said she was headed home with the partnership’s phone number and Web site to see how much help they can get cutting down that monthly tab.
Johnson said the nation’s biggest drug companies have had programs for as long as 50 years to provide free or reduced-cost prescription medicines to those who can’t afford them.
“But frankly we didn’t do a good job advertising them,” he said.
As a result, not only did few people know about those programs, there was no unified system to connect those in need with the company, foundation or community service program that could help them. Johnson admitted a person might have to contact 25-30 different companies and assistance programs to get what they need. He said the answer was to create the partnership which he described as “a one-stop shop” to put the uninsured, underinsured and seniors in touch with the right programs.
Using the computerized systems aboard the bus, technician Jessica Wilson was able to find help for Sanchez in a matter of minutes. Silvina Martinez is the partnership’s Hispanic outreach coordinator. She said many Latinos not only lack health care and drug coverage, they face additional barriers to getting help.
“We’re making a very special effort to reach out to Hispanics who many times don’t even know about the services available,” she said.
Ann Proffitt of the Adams House cancer resource center, said the partnership will become another tool to use to help patients get the medicines they need.
Johnson said the partnership ties together 475 different programs – many supplying brand-name drugs at greatly reduced cost or no cost to those who qualify. It can offer drugs for practically any ailment from high blood pressure to cancer to AIDS and Alzheimer’s – more than 2,500 different prescription medications.
He said the programs are available not only for the homeless and jobless but for those with jobs but no prescription drug coverage.
And he said it’s not necessary to catch up with the bus as it comes through town – PPA offers a phone-in service as well as Internet access to find the programs that can help an individual cut their costs.
“The beauty of PPA is its simplicity,” he said. “Rather than contacting 25 to 30 companies, we do it for you by computer.”
He admitted the program isn’t completely altruistic.
“It’s not only the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do,” he said adding that the drug companies want to preserve America’s free-market health-care system and avoid having the government step in as it has in countries including Canada.
“But if we’re going to do that, we simply can’t have millions of people fall through the cracks.”
He said that’s one of the reasons the drug companies have put millions into the PPA.
The bus, he said, is a “traveling billboard” which has seen 2.3 million Americans and visited 47 states in the past year.
Next year, he said they’ll do the nationwide tour all over again.