Free Patient Assistance Programs Offset Costs for Patients

Nevada's unemployment rate is currently at 12.6 percent. Even more people are underemployed, and those are just the people who are declared. As of last year, Nevada also had the largest percentage of illegal immigrants in the country, 7.2 percent of Nevada's population, according to data provided by Pew Hispanic Center last year.

Still, people become sick every day – regardless of whether they are unemployed, underemployed or gainfully employed. Sadly, people in all of these categories often find themselves in a situation where their medications cost more than they can afford to pay. As a result, people with illnesses – sometimes as debilitating as MS or lupus – end up skipping days, weeks or even months of taking their medications because they simply can't afford them. Illnesses such as these and others progress if medications aren't taken consistently, and lifelong problems can arise simply because they can't afford their medications.

That's why members of the public and private sector have joined forces to establish patient assistance programs that can help fill in the gaps.

One such program is the Nevada Drug Card, which was established in 2008 to help people afford their medications. The free prescription assistance program provides users with savings of up to75 percent off their prescriptions. Since its launch, Nevada Drug Card has already saved its users more than $7.9 million.

Obtaining a card is as simple as visiting nevadadrugcard.com, printing out a card and bringing it to any one of the 459 participating pharmacies throughout Nevada – 56,000 throughout the country – including CVS/pharmacy, Albertsons/Savon, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and more.

Those who are not able to print a card can visit any CVS/pharmacy, Albertsons/Sav-On pharmacy in Nevada and ask them to process their prescription through Nevada Drug Card. For those who don't speak English well, the website offers 44 additional language options. The card can be used by those without health insurance, but those with insurance can benefit as well, as not all insurance plans cover every prescription.

"There are so many instances where our plan has helped out," said Suzanne Domoracki, program development director for Nevada Drug Card.

Another program that was established to help patients gain access to the medications they need is NeedyMeds.org, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. For the first time ever, the nonprofit organization helped consumers save more than $1 million dollars in December 2011. Users can search for their medication (name brand or generic) on the site; based on the medication requested, the website will offer recommendations for suitable patient assistance programs. Users can also search for medication coupons, which can be printed straight from the site.

NeedyMeds also offers a drug discount card as well. Like Nevada Drug Card, it can't be combined with insurance, but those with (and without) insurance can use it.

A third program, which is available nationally and also free, is the U.S. Pharmacy Card. The card, which includes participation by more than 59,000 U.S. pharmacies to provide annual savings up to 45 percent, allows cardholders to save on both brand name and generic drugs. Savings on a single prescription range from a few percent up to 95 percent off the retail price of the drug.

All members of a family can use the card and, like Nevada Drug Card, the U.S. Pharmacy Card can be printed and used immediately. There are no age, income or other exclusions. For those who speak another language, there are 52 languages options in which the site can be viewed.

These are just three of the many programs available to patients who need help affording their medications. While some physicians are quick to recommend patient assistance programs to their patients, many don't think of it. Domoracki recommends all patients ask their doctors for information on local patient assistance programs – including coupons, co-pay cards, pharmacy cards, drug cards and others.

Domoracki said she, herself, regularly gives patients referrals to other programs as well.

"Our goal is to help patients have access to the medications they need," she said.

For more information on Nevada Drug Card, call 702-510-0100. For more information on NeedyMeds, visit needymeds.org; for more information on the U.S. Pharmacy Card, visit uspharmacycard.com or call 1-800-931-8872.