Q&A: Where can I find free or discount drugs if I can’t afford them?

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We recommend three Web sites that can lead you to hundreds of discount programs: Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), pparx.org, NeedyMeds, needymeds.org, and RxAssist, rxassist.org/. Eligibility requirements vary. Some state governments offer plans as well, and your pharmacist may be able to help. Most people who benefit from patient-assistance programs are uninsured, financially disadvantaged, and ineligible for Medicare Part D or Medicaid. There are other programs for those who have health-insurance coverage, but who need help paying their medication co-pays.

Most of these programs are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) is a clearinghouse for patient-assistance programs created by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). The PPA isn't a patient-advocate group; you don't give it your personal information, and it doesn't keep tabs on your progress. Rather, it maintains information for about 500 patient-assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies, covering about 3,500 medications.

“If you take several different medications, rather than going individually to each manufacturer to find out if you're eligible, you can do it all through the PPA,” said Kaelan Hollon of PhRMA.

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The PPA also maintains a toll-free hotline, 888-477-2669 (888-4PPA-NOW), where an operator can help determine the patient-assistance programs for which you're likely to qualify, based on your age, zip code, estimated gross household income, health insurance plan (if applicable), the number of people in your household, and the medications you take. You can obtain the same information on its website, pparx.org/en/gethelp. Many people take part in several patient-assistance programs, and PPA will mail all the forms required for each of the programs if you call its hotline, or if you use the Web site, you can print out the forms immediately. The PPA also informs consumers about federal grants and free or near-free discount prescription-drug cards.

After you receive the appropriate forms, you'll deal directly with the pharmaceutical companies who sponsor the patient-assistance programs. Expect to involve your doctor in the process; nearly every form requires a physician's signature to verify that you need to take the drug in question.

RxAssist and NeedyMeds have similar programs; RxAssist has a database of about 300 patient-assistance programs, while NeedyMeds lists nearly 400 programs, along with links to drug discount cards, including its own. When they're available, the Web sites include links to online applications for specific patient-assistance programs. In all cases, the completed applications should be submitted to the pharmaceutical companies for consideration, not to RxAssist or NeedyMeds.

If you qualify for a patient-assistance program, you may save hundreds of dollars per month on medication bills. “The majority of the programs listed with the PPA are free or cost just two or three dollars.” Hollon said.

– Lisa Fields

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These materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

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