Unregulated Drugs a Hazard to Poor and Elderly Patients

As children grow up, they learn an important lesson: when you are sick, taking medicine usually helps you feel better in a reasonably short time. That acquired knowledge has helped generations of kids suck down foul-tasting cough medicine and other remedies.

In fact, “taking your medicine” has become cultural shorthand for doing something that may be unpleasant in the short run, but benefits one over the long term. This is certainly aided by the fact the United States has one of the safest drug supplies in the world; when you take a medication in America, you can count on it not only helping you feel better, but being safe for consumption.

Except when you can’t.

Illegal, unregulated pharmacies have become more prominent in recent years. Advertising and selling largely over the Internet, these criminal enterprises developed a niche selling medication to patients at cheap prices found nowhere else. But these savings come with a price: the drugs are often counterfeit, and are sometimes laced with dangerous substances. Antifreeze, road paint and rat poison have all been found in these discount fake medicines, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy estimates that 97 percent of all Internet drug sellers don’t meet state and federal drug safety regulations.

caution1These fake pharmacies prey on a very specific set of people: namely, the poor and elderly who are sick. Poor folks and elderly individuals are more likely to fall victim to these cons for a number of reasons. For one, both groups tend to be less savvy consumers in general and less likely to sniff out fraud. Moreover, they are also more likely to suffer from a chronic condition that requires prescription medication and are less likely to have the insurance or resources necessary to acquire the necessary medication.

 

But it does not have to be this way. While Medicare Part D has had tremendous success increasing access to prescription drugs for seniors, that program covers just a fraction of the population. What about the rest of the people who could use similar help?

Fortunately, many pharmaceutical companies have programs that provide medications to low-income people at a reduced cost or free of charge. The problem is that, for many years, there was no central place for the patients that need those medications to find information about these programs.

 

medsThat’s where NeedyMeds comes in. NeedyMeds is an informational portal that connects low-income patients with information about programs they can use to lower their prescription drug costs. Since its inception in 1997, we have helped customers save millions of dollars on their prescription costs. Folks can find assistance by visiting our website, www.needymeds.org or by calling our helpline number at (800) 503-6897. But while both the dollar savings and human impact are significant, more needs to be done to protect vulnerable citizens from dangerous drugs and improve access to the medications that will actually make them feel better.

Certainly, state and federal law enforcement need to take action to identify and hold these predators accountable. Search engine companies like Google and Yahoo! should take aggressive steps to limit these drug outlets’ presence in searches done through their sites. And increasing access to low-cost prescription drugs should be a public-policy priority.

“Taking your medicine” is not the only medically-tinged aphorism in our lexicon. Another is that sunshine is the best disinfectant; essentially, more information about and attention to misdeeds cleans up unscrupulous actors. More sunshine needs to be shone on these unregulated pharmacies and the real public health dangers they pose.  Allowing the status quo of unregulated pharmacies selling dangerous, counterfeit drugs to continue is a dangerous, and simply unacceptable, option.

 

Demystifying the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card

Have you heard about the NeedyMeds drug discount card yet? If so, have you tried it yet? Hopefully you’ve already used the card and have seen some significant savings. If not, it’s time to print out your free card and start using it today!

The free NeedyMeds drug discount card can be used anywhere in the country at over 63,000 participating pharmacies including all of the major chains, to save up to 80% on your prescriptions. There are no income or age restrictions. There is no activation or registration needed and no personal information is taken when using our card.

The only rule is that you can’t combine it with Drug Discount Cardinsurance. So if you’re uninsured, you can use it anytime you are purchasing a medication. If you have health insurance, you might wonder how this card can help you. The card can fill in the gaps in your coverage. For example, if you have any medications not covered under your insurance or if you have a high co-pay or deductible, you could try using the card instead of your insurance. You can also use the card on any over-the-counter or medical supplies your doctor writes as a prescription, as well as pet prescriptions you can pick up at a pharmacy.

There are many ways that you can make use of the drug discount card. If you’re in individual, you can use the card yourself and share it with your family and friends! One family could use the same card and it never expires.

A NeedyMeds drug discount partnership is a great opportunity to collaborate with us if you are part of an organization, social service organization or health care facility. Offer a co-branded card to increase awareness of your organization and how you are contributing positively to your community.

pillbottleWe design a plastic card that can include the partner’s name and logo and prepare camera-ready and web-ready graphics. We work with each partner to help them determine the best way to distribute their branded cards and educate the card recipients on how to maximize their savings with the card.

You’ll also receive monthly reports about how often your card is getting used and how much you are saving the population that you serve. These reports can help illustrate in a tangible way to funders and other interested parties how you are helping your constituency.

And the best part about a discount card partnership with NeedyMeds? It’s free! Contact outreach@needymeds.org today if you’re interested in finding out more about the opportunity or to request a large amount of cards.

 

To print out a card right from our website that is ready to use and be brought to the pharmacy, visit: http://www.needymeds.org/drugcard/drugcard.pdf.

 

To request a single card, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:

NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card

PO Box 219

Gloucester, MA 01931

A Bitter Pill to Swallow: Many Americans Can’t Afford Their Medicine

For the first time in decades, Americans are actually spending less on their medication That’s according to a recent study by IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics which found  the total spending on medicines fell 3.5 percent last year –from $329.2 billion in 2011 to $325.8 billion in 2012. The study attributes much of it to an encouraging trend: the declining use of brand-name drugs and the greater availability of less expensive generics. But it’s not all good news. The study’s authors say that the decrease spending on medications was driven also by consumers cutting back on health care overall – and going to the doctor less and less, because they can’t afford to.

 

06.12.13.2Problems paying for medical bills and medications remain the most pressing financial problem Americans face, even more so than problems with making their mortgage payments or paying other big household bills. And, saving money on health costs frequently means cutting corners elsewhere—both findings according to an annual national telephone poll by Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs a free public education project that provides free guidance on the safety, effectiveness, and cost of drugs. More than half of survey respondents who take at least one prescription drug said they had to take steps to reduce other household expenses or change how they manage their finances to pay for their medication. Those steps included spending less on groceries, relying more on credit cards, and postponing paying other bills. And many took some potentially dangerous measures, such as putting off a doctor’s visit, declining a medical test, delaying a medical procedure, failing to fill a prescription, or cutting pills in half without the OK from their doctor or pharmacist.

 
If you’re having trouble affording your medications, bring it up with your doctor. Consumer Reports’ research shows that only 6 percent of patients found out the cost of a prescription drug during a doctor visit, while two-thirds first learned how much their drug would cost when picking up their medicine at the pharmacy counter. One way you can lower your out-of-pocket drug costs is by asking your doctor to prescribe a generic version of the drug you’re taking. Generic drugs are just as effective and safe as their pricier brand name counterparts. The Food and Drug Administration requires that over-the-counter and prescription generic drugs have exactly the same active ingredients in the same strength as the brands they copy.



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Best Buy Drugs’ experts also recommend shopping around, since prices for the same drug can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy. For example, a one-month supply of generic Lexapro and generic Lipitor cost about $100 less at Costco than at CVS or Rite-Aid. Also, consider getting a 90-day refill of your drug, rather than just a month’s supply, take advantage of discount generic-drug programs, and when you pick up your prescription, tell the pharmacist you want the lowest possible price, whether you have insurance or not. The retail prices can sometimes be lower for certain drugs than many insurance copays. Take the generic Lexapo example: It cost an average of $7 at Costco—which could be less than your insurance co-pay, which his often about $10 for generic drugs. Find out which pharmacies have the lowest out-of-pocket drug costs.

 

– Ginger Skinner

 

Ginger Skinner is a writer for Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, a public education project dedicated to helping you talk to your doctor about prescription drugs, and helping you find the most effective and safest drugs for the best price. Learn more about how to save on your medications.

Helpful Online Resources

For today’s blog post we would like to share with our readers some fantastic online healthcare resources. There are many websites out there dedicated to healthcare, some great and some not-so-great. Here are four resources that the staff at NeedyMeds think you will find helpful.

 

Together Rx Access – Together Rx Access provides a number of different resources for patients and healthcare professionals alike. They have partnered with a number of the nation’s leading pharmaceutical companies to offer a free drug discount card program for those without prescription drug coverage. Furthermore, their website has extensive articles on the Affordable Care Act and healthcare reform as well as a “Better Health” section with articles and insights on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They also have an entire “Resources For Professionals” section with information for patient advocates and other healthcare professionals.420707_10150608413178932_1637613913_n

 

Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs – Consumer Reports is a non-profit organization dedicated to working for a “fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.” Their Best Buy Drugs site takes this mission statement and focuses on prescription medications. This includes in-depth details of the medications, their recommendations, and comparisons with other medications. NeedyMeds recently partnered with Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, and we now display their medication information on our Patient Assistance Program listings.

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PsychCentral – PsychCentral is a website dedicated to mental health. Their site is run entirely by mental health professionals. They cover every mental health diagnosis with extensive discussion and insights into symptoms, causes, support groups and treatment options. They also have dozens of very informative and regularly updated blogs covering a wide range of topics. If you or someone you know has a question about mental health, PsychCentral should be the first place to turn on the web. PsychCentral

 

Treatment Diaries – Treatment Diaries is a new type of online community where people are able to share their experiences with different diseases and disorders anonymously. People are able to connect with one another and open up about their treatment or the treatment of a loved one. Finding someone to talk with about your illness can be difficult and oftentimes intimidating. Treatment Diaries makes it much easier to find someone in a similar situation, and the ability to remain anonymous creates a safe environment to share your story.

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Paying for Home Modifications

When caring for a loved one, many families look for financial assistance to help specifically with the cost of home care services. While there are programs that provide assistance in this area, many families fail to consider other forms of assistance that can make their loved one’s residence more accessible and safer. A safe and accessible home can actually reduce the need for home care services as well as prevent unexpected increases in home care services costs by helping to avoid injuries. This articles aims to help families better understand their financial assistance options for making home modifications for elderly or disabled individuals.

When thinking about financial assistance, it helps to first identify the different components of a home modification project. Most projects have costs associated with the materials and separate costs for labor. For example, one purchases bathroom grab bars from a hardware vendor and then pays a home contractor to install them securely. This separation is important because oftentimes assistance for these two parts comes from two entirely different programs.

hammerFinding financial help for the hardware portion of a project is easier when one recognizes the phrase

“assistive technology” and realizes that it is nearly synonymous with “home medical equipment.” The official definition is below and it is broad enough where any physical item for a home modification can be classified as assistive technology, and this opens up a world of assistance opportunities.

Assistive technology is “…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”

Possible sources of funding for assistive technology include Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, non-profit organizations and state-based nursing home diversion programs. NeedyMeds has a database that includes assistive technology and home modification services within the Diagnosis-Based Assistance database. The good news about Medicare is that it will cover the cost of some supplies for home modifications but the bad news is that their limited coverage is usually for items that are medical in nature. A table of which items Medicare will and will not pay for is available here. Medicaid, however, is much more generous. Almost every state has a Medicaid waiver for home- and community-based services which help individuals avoid nursing home placement by providing support for them to live independently. As such, these Medicaid waivers will pay for home modification materials to support independent living.

Within the VA, there are several sources of assistance. VA Medical Care, like Medicare, may pay. There are also Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services (VD-HCBS) that are, in loose terms, similar to Medicaid waivers. Finally the VA offers several types of grants that can be used to help veterans with material costs; these include SHA, SAH and most broadly the HISA grants.

Nursing home diversion programs are like Medicaid waivers in that they provide supports including help for assistive technology to allow individuals to remain living at home. They are intended to assist lower income individuals that do not qualify for Medicaid. The challenge lies in identifying these programs as they have different names in each state and they are not available uniformly across all 50 states.

Many of these same options provide assistance for the labor portion of a home modification. Unfortunately, Medicare is not among them. Medicaid waivers, VD-HCBS and the aforementioned SAH, SHA and HISA grants can all be used to pay home contractors as well as the nursing home diversion programs. In addition to these options, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers home improvement loans and the USDA offers Rural Repair and Rehabilitation Grants.

To limit one’s view of assistance to only financial assistance is to discount one’s best option, which is to find free labor. Many organizations provide free labor to assist in home modifications. Most notably is a national program called Rebuilding Together. On a local level, one should consider contacting churches, high schools, fraternities, unions, independent living centers, Rotary, Lions and other clubs and neighborhood associations. Even if these institutions do not have an established volunteer home modification program, many will take on the project on a one-off basis.

paying_for_sr_care_logoThe organization PayingForSeniorCare.com maintains a searchable database of financial assistance programs that can help with the cost of home modifications. They have also authored articles specifically about paying for motorized wheelchairs and paying for bathroom safety modifications.

Alex Guerrero is the Director of Operations for Payingforseniorcare.com, an organization whose mission it is to help families find the means to pay for long-term care of their loved ones.