Doctors can find cheap or free drugs for patients
■ Physician groups join drugmakers in promoting a medication assistance clearinghouse for low-income patients.
By David Glendinning — Posted Oct. 17, 2005
Washington -- Many physicians are aware that hundreds of public and private programs throughout the U.S. offer free or discounted medications to patients with low incomes. Now several medical organizations and the nation's drug industry are teaming up to let doctors know that they can access many of them in one place.
The Partnership for Prescription Assistance launched a major new initiative last month when it began informing doctors directly about an easy way to access these assistance programs. The partnership, a coalition of national, state and local organizations led by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, had focused on getting the information to patients and pharmacies since its launch in April.
Then in September, participating groups initiated a mass mailing to roughly 70,000 primary care physicians informing them that the partnership is a one-stop shop for reduced-cost medicines for their low-income patients. Doctors got brochures, lists of frequently asked questions, special notepads and a waiting room display describing how to access discounts offered by drug makers, private firms, states and the federal government.
Medical groups in the effort, such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Emergency Physicians, said targeting doctors is one of the best ways to get the data out to those in need.
"Most patients either don't know about prescription-assistance programs or don't realize they qualify," said AAFP President Mary Frank, MD. "That's why this effort to reach and educate family physicians is critical -- so that patients can have access to programs that get them the medications they need based on income and not on where they live or if they speak English."
Drugmakers realized early on that doctors needed this information and would best know what to do with it, said Billy Tauzin, PhRMA's president and CEO. "Doctors are on the front lines treating patients and are an essential resource in providing information to those who might otherwise be unaware that help is readily available," he said.
The program will be a major convenience for physicians who know that the drug discounts exist but don't know that they or their patients can access data about more than 475 assistance programs in one place, said Richard Dolinar, MD, an endocrinologist in Phoenix. Such a handy reference will be especially useful to doctors who treat chronically ill patients with multiple co-morbidities, he said.
"When I have a diabetic patient walk into my office, it's like having five patients walk in," said Dr. Dolinar, a board member of the American Assn. of Clinical Endocrinologists, a partnership member. "Trying to get help for them meant that if they were on five different medications from five different companies, you wound up giving them five different phone numbers. With this program, there's one number to contact."
In addition to the toll-free number doctors can give to patients or use themselves, the partnership links to assistance programs on its Web site. Tauzin estimated that in its first four months of operation, the group connected nearly 800,000 patients with assistance programs. The effort especially targets those earning below 200% of the federal poverty level.
A genuine desire to improve patients' lives was the primary force driving the pharmaceutical lobby's decision to launch the program, Tauzin said. But he said the industry also wanted to regain the trust of critics who claimed that firms were valuing profits over patient access to lifesaving medications.