Drug Companies Expand Their Prescription Drug Help

The current economic recession has affected many patient’s ability to pay for their prescription medicine. Some drug companies are responding with improved prescription drug help. Merck, which makes Singulair for asthma, Januvia for diabetes and Fosamax for osteoporosis, increased the amount of total annual income a family can make and still qualify for free medication in March. Individuals making less than $43,000 and families of four making less than $88,000 now can qualify for help with prescriptions. Merck says it has helped 1.7 million patients with $1.9 billion of medicine over the last seven years.

“We are committed to helping patients, and that commitment is evident in the $140 million of financial assistance we provided in 2008,” spokesperson Shannon Altimari from drug maker Biogen says. Biogen Idec provides help for prescription Avonex and Tysabri which is used for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Pfizer announced a program earlier this year called Maintain that provides free medicine to unemployed patients who need prescription drug help. Maintain is just one of several patient assistance programs that the company offers.

AstraZeneca just announced that it was changing its medication assistance program to provide assistance sooner to certain patients. The company’s program offers free medicine or low-cost medicine to uninsured, low-income patients. AstraZeneca said in a statement that it “would immediately extend assistance to qualifying patients who have lost their jobs, had their incomes reduced or had a change in marital status or family size”. The company said these types of patients had been having problems qualifying for prescription drug help because their tax returns showed too high an income. Qualifying patients can now enroll by providing documentation of their current income and family size, AstraZeneca said.

Jason Richards is a patient that has experienced such problems. The 46-year-old plumber was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2005. His income from social security and a small disability policy barely covers his mortgage, medical bills, and other living expenses. “I have tried all sorts of things to see if I can get prescription drug help,” he says. He called the drug companies, Social Security, and his doctor’s office. He has also followed several leads on the Internet and finally found a company that would process all of the paperwork for him.

Richards’ prescription medicine cost over $600 a month and his medical expenses are more than $300 per month. “There were times when I have had to skip taking my medicine for a day or two,” he admits. Jason is not sure what the future holds for him but at least now he is getting the help with prescriptions that he needs.