NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prescription Drug Assistance Programs

October 9, 2001

Some relatively little-known programs offered by virtually all pharmaceutical manufacturers can make it easier for Medicare recipients, especially those with low incomes, to buy their prescription medications.

  • According to a 1998 survey by the Wall Street Journal, 80 percent of retirees use a prescription drug every day, and the average Medicare beneficiary needs 18 prescriptions a year.
  • More than 60 manufacturers have such programs; Pfizer, for example, provided free drugs for 600,000 people last year.

Under these plans, drug companies provide free medicines for those who have no prescription drug coverage and whose incomes fall below certain levels, regardless of age. The income limits are not that strict -- in some cases people earning up to $50,000 a year can qualify.

One unavoidable wrinkle is that you must apply separately to each company that makes your medications. The drugs are commonly dispensed through doctors, and patients usually have to requalify regularly. The drug makers do not advertise their programs -- some doctors are unaware of them, and others don't want to get involved because of the potential paperwork.

While some services provide information on these programs for a fee, a directory of such programs, with information on eligibility requirements, is available for free from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Source: Fred Brock, "Around the Prescription-Drug Hurdle," Seniority, New York Times, October 7, 2001; "2001-2002 Directory of Prescription Drug Patient Assistance Programs, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.


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