- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Q: I’ve been prescribed Forteo, which costs $500 a month. I can’t afford it. Where can I go for help?

A: There are low-cost and, in some cases, free options for low-income people who either have no health insurance or no prescription coverage. Unfortunately, the key word is “options.” Depending on which medications you take, which state you live in and a handful of other factors, you may need more than one program. A helpful physician, an Internet connection and a lot of patience will make this easier.

But, said Michal Fishman, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Inc., “not enough people who are eligible for these programs are taking advantage of them.”

Most pharmaceutical companies run programs for people who can’t afford the medication they produce; almost all require paperwork that must be filled out by both doctor and patient. Some companies run different programs for different medications.

For instance, Eli Lilly & Co., which makes the osteoporosis drug Forteo, has a card called LillyAnswers (www.lillyanswers.com). Low-income seniors who are eligible for Medicare and have no prescription drug coverage can apply for the card. With it, they pay $12 for a 30-day supply of a Lilly drug, including Forteo — a savings of $488 per month.

About 350,000 people participate in the program, which has filled 1.2 million prescriptions since it began in April 2002, according to the company.

Many of the programs run by pharmaceutical companies aren’t well publicized, said Howard Berliner, professor of health policy at New School University in New York. “It stands to reason why they wouldn’t be broadcasting the availability of low-income drugs.”

Still, according to the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, 6.2 million patients received 17.8 million prescriptions through programs run by pharmaceutical companies in 2003, up from 1.1 million patients in 1997.

Another option is state programs, which vary widely. Many states have multiple programs, some for AIDS patients, some for pregnant women. A Web site run by the pharmaceutical industry, www.helpingpatients.org, lists both state-run programs and programs run by pharmaceutical companies. (Click on “View a list of the participating pharmaceutical companies” to see both state and company-run programs.)

A directory on the site has both contact information and detailed descriptions of each plan, but it covers only programs run by pharmaceutical companies. The directory is also available by calling 800/762-4636.

Other programs are run by groups of drug companies. Pfizer, Lilly, AstraZeneca PLC, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV and Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc. participate in the U Share Prescription Drug Discount card, www.usharerx.com or 800/707-3917. The annual enrollment fee is $19.95. Low-income people who meet eligibility requirements and join the program can pay $15 for many Pfizer or AstraZeneca drugs, $12 for many Lilly drugs, and an estimated $12 to $15 per prescription for Janssen and Ortho-McNeil drugs. About 320,000 people have the card.

There are more than 40 Medicare-approved discount cards available. Try www.medicare.gov for more information.

If you don’t have Web access, a starting place for information about different programs should be your doctor.

“I hope every doctor would say to his patients, ‘Are you able to pay for this prescription?’” said Jim McNulty, director of consumer and family affairs at the Department of Mental Health in Rhode Island and former national president for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Mr. McNulty said most of the patients he sees are part of no official program and depend on doctors to give them a steady stream of medication the physicians have received as free samples from pharmaceutical sales representatives.

“People have to be really ingenious,” he said.


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