Where to Find Help Paying for Prescriptions


MainStreet is on a mission to help you find organizations that can improve your daily life while also helping your budget. We profile charities that help worthy causes while at the same time saving you money and/or advocating on your behalf.

This week, we look at organizations that help people who are struggling to afford their prescription medications.

A growing problem: Amid massive job losses caused by the recession, coupled with soaring housing costs, many Americans have found themselves ineligible or unable to afford health insurance. At the same time, many drug companies have been raising prices on their drugs, partly to offset declines in revenue as the global recession reduces the number of prescriptions people can afford to fill.

Pfizer’s new program: Pfizer Inc. (Stock Quote: PFE) recently announced that it would provide 70 of its most widely prescribed prescription drugs for free to people who have lost their jobs and health insurance.

The world's biggest drugmaker said last week it will give away the medicines for up to a year to Americans who lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been on the Pfizer drug for three months or more.

The announcement got considerable publicity—and a few mentions by late-night comedians—because it includes Pfizer’s bestselling sexual enhancement drug Viagra, but the program also includes medications that many people consider critical to their health, such as the cholesterol-lowering agent Lipitor.

Patients can call a toll-free number, 866-706-2400, to sign up, and those whose drugs are not included in the program will be referred to other company aid programs. Starting July 1, patients can also apply through the program's Web site, which has information about the other Pfizer aid programs.

Finding available programs:  Most major drug companies offer some type of assistance program for people who can’t afford medications, but trying to research these programs one company at a time can be time-consuming. To make things easier, check out NeedyMeds, a comprehensive web site that lists assistance programs in user friendly lists arranged by drug name, manufacturer and disease or condition. The site also has a long list of links to coupons for over-the-counter drugs, prescription meds, contact lenses and more. In addition, there are links to government programs (both state and federal), plus information on the federal poverty guidelines, upon which eligibility for many of these programs often depends.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance: If you’d like to speak to someone in person about programs that might be able to help you, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance is a helpful resource. Many people are familiar with PPA because of its frequent television commercials and celebrity spokesman, Montel Williams. Like NeedyMeds, the PPA doesn’t actually give away any medicine itself. Instead, it acts as a matchmaker and consumer advocate, taking patients’ information and—after reviewing their economic situation and medical conditions—connecting them with as many programs as possible. The PPA has two  buses traveling across the country, stopping in all 50 states and more than 2,000 cities to educate low income and uninsured patients about drug assistance programs.

In addition, the PPA web site links to a variety of patient assistance programs across the country, and there’s also an entire section devoted specifically to getting help for kids.

Government resources: The government has a number of programs designed to help people with medication costs, although you generally need to be elderly, disabled or have little or no income. One of the main federal programs is Medicare, which now has a program that provides assistance by paying for part of the monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments under the new prescription drug program. Information and an application for this program is available here. For information on state programs, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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