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Medicine project receives grant

January 19, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Patients with little or no health insurance may be able to get some of their prescription medication free from pharmaceutical companies under a new program to be based in Washington County.

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The Maryland Health Care Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, will announce today in Annapolis a $165,000 grant to start the program.

The grant money will be used to set up a program that will provide personnel to help streamline the process of applying for free medicine from pharmaceutical companies that provide them.

Washington County Health Systems Inc. will act as a "hub" for at least 15 private and public social agencies joining forces on the project in Western Maryland, according to Sid Gale, of Washington County Health Systems, the parent company of Washington County Hospital.

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The project's first-year goal is to help between 600 and 800 people, he said.

"This will be a great benefit for people with no or limited insurance or limited income," he said.

Income guidelines for eligibility have not been decided, but the program probably will cover patients below federal income poverty levels and Medicare patients who may be above the levels, Gale said

Washington County Health Systems said that a 1997 survey of health insurance by The Commonwealth Fund and The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that 24 percent of uninsured nonelderly adults said they didn't fill prescriptions because they couldn't afford to do so.

Based on the study, Marilyn D. Maultsby, the executive director of the Maryland Health Care Foundation, estimated that as many as 200,000 Maryland residents leave prescriptions unfilled.

Gale said it is common for pharmaceutical companies to give free drugs to sick people who can't afford them. But the paperwork that goes into getting the drugs can be burdensome, he said.

"There's always resistance in a physician's office to filling out the forms," Gale said. "Sometimes that takes the least priority."

Under the local program, automated forms will be used to speed up the application process and save doctors from having to do extra work. The effort won't always work, since some companies require individually numbered forms, Gale said.

The prescriptions will be sent to the physicians who prescribed them.

At its Web site, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America cited a 1999 survey it did of its members. More than 2.7 million prescriptions were filled for 1.5 million patients through assistance programs, the organization said.

Members of the pharmaceutical group list at the Web site the medications they make available through the indigence program. For example, Bayer Corp. and Bristol Myers Squibb Co. say most of their medications are included, while Merck & Co., Inc. says it will only cover anti-cancer injectables.

In addition to Washington County Health Systems, the Commission on Aging and the Department of Social Services in Washington County; the Community Free Clinic and Community Action Council in Hagerstown; Associated Charities in Cumberland; and the health departments in Washington, Garrett, and Allegany counties were among those that worked to get the grant, Gale said.

Each county involved will have available a patient advocate and community volunteers, Gale said.

The Maryland Health Care Foundation is giving two other grants for medicine programs - $149,600 to the Mid-Atlantic Association of Community Health Centers and $173,000 to Medbank of Maryland, Inc., based in Baltimore County.

The project managers will work with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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