Bus brings discount prescription info

July 29, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- A heavy downpour diminished the crowd for Wednesday's visit from the "Help is Here Express" bus, but people needing low-cost or free prescription medications can visit the program's Web site or call its toll-free number any time.

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) bus was available at the Southgate Shopping Center from 4 to 6 p.m. People lined up in the first hour to talk with consultants, but the rain started halfway through the event.

Ed Belkin of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said the same information is available online and in 150 languages by calling 1-888-4PPA-NOW.

"There's no charge to find out if you qualify," he said.

Two buses started traveling the country in April 2005 to disseminate information about various programs, many of them through pharmaceutical companies. Some of the programs have been in place for five decades.


"It became apparent there were people who still didn't know who to turn to get help. ... We're trying to go to those states and communities that are particularly hard hit" by the economy, Belkin said.

The majority of clients, typically in their 20s and 30s, are unemployed or don't have prescription drug coverage through their employers, Belkin said. They make too much money for Medicaid, he said.

Amanda Skinner, 29, of Chambersburg, lost her job in June. She had three prescriptions filled with 90-day supplies shortly before that happened, but now she worries about them running out.

"I know the one prescription I'm on was costing me $80 for a three-month supply, and that was with insurance," Skinner said.

A specialist with PPA provided her with information needed to get two of her medications at a discount.

About 2,500 brand-name and generic medications are in the PPA database. The 475 assistance programs have different eligibility requirements, but PPA provides the needed forms.

"We encourage them to get to their doctor as soon as they can," Belkin said, saying many of the forms need physician signatures.

Pharmaceutical research companies fund the PPA work, which has included at least 20 bus trips through Pennsylvania. The member companies want to ensure people have the medications they need to lead productive lives, Belkin said.

"These are people committed to help people fight disease. A prescription medicine that sits on a shelf does no one any good," he said, citing statistics that chronic diseases account for 75 cents of every health-care dollar spent.

Amy Hicks, director of the United Way of Franklin County, said she's found people receiving proper treatment for their medical problems are more likely to be successful in all areas of their lives. A higher number of calls for prescription drug assistance are made to her office because of the slumping economy.

"We've seen an uptick in every line of referral," Hicks said, saying callers also need help with housing and utilities.

Hicks learned about the bus a year ago and said she was "thrilled" when PPA officials called to coordinate a location with her.

"This is their first time in our community," she said.

Officials with Summit Health, which owns Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals, set up a booth at the event to share information about their own prescription drug assistance program. Volunteers work with people without coverage to fill out forms and contact pharmaceutical companies.

"We get them free drugs or drugs at a substantial savings," said Karen Marshall, a volunteer.

The program developed after Earlyne McCleary, director of volunteer services, overheard a conversation between two men in a grocery store several years ago.

"One said he had to choose between insulin and his groceries," she said.

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