Rx DRUG COSTS: Many Unaware of Free Drug Programs
The "best kept secret" of the pharmaceutical industry, the Wall Street Journal reports, is that "drug companies ... give away millions of dollars worth of drugs each year." According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, U.S. drug companies gave away 2.8 million prescriptions worth about $500 million in 1998. Patients who qualify for free drugs generally are those who have too high of incomes to qualify for government assistance. Bristol-Myers Squibb allows qualified individuals to receive free drugs for six months, with no limit on how often patients can reapply. Patients in Glaxo-Wellcome's program can receive approval by phone and then go to a pharmacy to fill a 30-day prescription for a $5-$10 co-payment. After an application form is mailed, the patient receives another 60-day supply. Glaxo said it gave away $28 million in free drugs last year, filling more than 14,000 free prescriptions each month. Through its Lilly Cares program, Eli Lilly distributed $113 million of free drugs last year, but spokesperson Joan Todd "would disclose very little about the program." Other private organizations help people apply for programs. Patients in the Medicine Program pay $5 per prescription, generally receiving a three-month supply. Cindy Hogg, the program's administrator said that people taking "maintenance drugs" like blood-pressure medicines generally have incomes of $30,000 or less, while those with catastrophic illnesses such as AIDS may have incomes of $50,000 or more and still qualify. Unfortunately, most patients and doctors are unaware of such programs, mostly because they "aren't widely publicized and often require both patients and doctors to file extensive paperwork." Hogg said, "In my opinion [drug companies] want to keep it a secret. They do it so they can tell Congress, 'We give away medicine for free,' but then they don't tell anybody about it and make it hard for people to apply" (Parker-Pope, 7/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.