Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Company offers costly medicine at cut-rate prices

90-day supply may cost $30

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — Betty Kountz had overcome three mild strokes and lived in fear of being stricken again. Yet she faced the prospect of giving up medication meant to stave off another attack.

        Thirty pills cost as much as $113, and Ms. Kountz could only scrape together enough money for two rounds of the medication.

        Ms. Kountz, 81, said her insurance didn't cover the drug, and she couldn't stretch her Social Security check any further.

        Unable to afford more refills, she contacted a company in Kentucky that connects low-income people with free medicine from drug companies. After a one-week lapse in taking her medicine, a batch of pills arrived, enough to last 90 days.

        It cost her a one-time $20 registration fee, plus a $10 processing fee — paid to American Medical Pharmaceutical Outlet in Shelbyville.

        American Medical handles most of the paperwork to enroll people in programs offered by pharmaceutical companies to distribute free drugs to the needy. American Medical has attracted about 1,000 clients nationally since opening in January, said Larry Mann, a managing partner.

        He said it has helped clients get drugs worth tens of thousands of dollars — prescriptions that otherwise would have gone unfilled.

        Most clients are elderly on fixed incomes, he said, but some are young people without prescription drug benefits.

        Laurel True, state advocacy coordinator for AARP, applauded the company's intent, but said it's only a stopgap approach. He said it doesn't solve what's become a nagging social problem — the unaffordability of prescription drugs for many Americans.

        Mr. Mann said his company fills a niche by tapping drug-assistance programs that have been available for years, but have remained unknown among many low-income people who might benefit.

        American Medical is an outgrowth of a Shelbyville-based charity, the National Association for the Terminally Ill, which helps terminal patients and their families pay for everyday expenses.

        Through his work for the charity, Mr. Mann said, he saw a huge gap between the pharmaceutical needs of the poor and the medicines they could afford. So he helped start American Medical in a converted daycare center to guide clients through the application process to receive free medicines.

        Mr. Mann said more than 1,000 medicines are available through patient assistance programs offered by dozens of drug companies.

        Jackie Cottrell, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the trade association's members distributed 6.5 million free prescriptions to 2.4 million patients in 2000. The wholesale value of the drugs totaled $934 million, she said.

        In 1997, association members filled about 2 million free prescriptions for about 1.1 million patients, at a wholesale value of $374.5 million, Ms. Cottrell said. The association's members include most of the nation's major pharmaceutical companies.

        Ms. Cottrell said individuals or doctors' offices can apply for the free medication themselves. She said people can call a toll free number — 800-762-4636 — or access the association's Web site to obtain a directory of drug companies' patient-assistance programs.

        Mr. Mann said it usually takes 10 to 12 weeks from the time an application is submitted to when a client receives free medicine.

        Clients generally receive enough free drugs to last 90 days, he said.

        American Medical also assists clients to renew their free medications, charging another $10 fee per prescription.

        The assistance programs generally are limited to individuals making less than $16,000 each year or households earning less than $25,000, Mr. Mann said. Recipients cannot have prescription drug benefits through insurance.

       American Medical Pharmaceutical Outlet: www.medshelp4u.com. Phone: 888-956-5802. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: www.phrma.org


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