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When Free Medicines Aren’t Free

You may have seen the ads claiming a company can help you get all your medications for free. These sites may claim there are “secret” programs run by pharmaceutical companies that provide medicines for free – and only these sites know how to access them. Other sites may claim “for a low monthly fee” they can get you your medicines at no cost.

 

Let’s take a look at these claims and learn the truth.

 

First, there are no “secret” programs. Most pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs (PAPs). You can find out about them on the companies’ websites, drug-specific websites, or at NeedyMeds. Some even mention them in their television ads. These are the “secret” programs the website ads refer to. Nothing secret about them!

Second, despite claims made on websites, PAPs don’t help with every drug. Each pharma company decide which drugs to offer on their PAP. Some include all their drugs, others programs only include certain drugs. What’s rare is to find is a program that provides free generic medicines.

Third, not everyone is eligible. Each program has its own eligibility guidelines based on income and insurance coverage. Some will help people on Medicare, others won’t. There is a wide variety in eligibility requirements. If you make too much money or your insurance covers the drug, then chances are you won’t be able to participate in the program.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, you don’t need any help applying to these programs. You can do it all yourself for free. The information you need and the application to apply is available on the manufacturer’s website and on NeedyMeds. Most applications are straightforward and easy to complete. All will require some input from the health professional who wrote the prescription.

 

If you are on a number of drugs you may find that each is on a different PAP. That means you may be filling out a number of applications. This can become quite time consuming. In this scenario you might find it easier to use one of these companies. But there is an alternative.

 

NeedyMeds list over 1,000 programs that help people find and apply to PAPs. All provide assistance for free or at a very low charge. You can see if there’s such a program near you by going to the Application Assistance section of the NeedyMeds website.

 

Here are some tips if all else fails and you decide to pay for help from a commercial application assistance program:

  • Check the reputation of the company – The easiest way to do this is to Google the company name with “complaints” and see what comes up. If you find lots of complaints then try a different company. You’ll find some companies have lots of complaints filed against them and others have a clean slate.

  • Be prepared to give a stranger a lot of personal information – The company helping you complete the applications will need a lot of your information such as date of birth, Social Security number, insurance and financial information, the medicines you take, your diagnoses, credit card or checking account numbers and more. Do you want to share this info with a stranger over the Internet?

  • Are they a legitimate business – Make sure their website includes a mailing address, preferably a physical address rather than a Post Office box, an email address and a phone number. Check out their Better Business Bureau listing.

  • How good is their customer service – Call their toll-free helpline number and ask some questions. (Steer clear of any that don’t have a toll-free help line.) Are they courteous and helpful on the phone or do they give you the bum’s rush? Send them some emails and see how quickly they get back to you and if the information they provide is useful.

  • Be careful how you pay – It’s best to use a credit card. If there are problems, your credit card company can help resolve them. Never give access to your checking account.

 

There are some legitimate commercial application assistance programs that provide good service at a reasonable price. But there are also those that are less than reputable, providing poor service while charging a lot.

The most important thing to remember is you never need a for-profit company to access PAPs. You can do it all yourself with the information you’ll find on the NeedyMeds website.

 

Rich Sagall, MD, is the president and co-founder of NeedyMeds. He practiced family and occupational medicine for 25 years and now devotes all his time NeedyMeds. He has written and spoken on the obstacle people encounter in paying for their healthcare and medications.

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