Resource center fills need for medication affordability

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — When a medical professional writes a new prescription for a patient in need, there’s a 30 percent chance it will not be filled.

It’s a striking number. But a new, free service offered through Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center aims to ensure more people who are struggling financially get necessary medications by connecting them to existing programs that can help.

Organizing members understand not everyone wants to talk about their income. But if it comes down to not being able to afford your prescriptions, leaders of the Mary Potter Medication Resource Center want you to know it’s OK to ask for help.

“It’s hard enough to live with a chronic illness,” said Scotty Munning, a nurse practitioner. “But then to wonder how you’re gonna meet that and your daily needs. It’s hard for people to live with some of these chronic things, and to take a little burden off them is a big, huge deal.”

The resource center — located inside the hospital’s Medical Arts Building at 721 W. 13th St. — launched a pilot program in early October and is now available to qualifying patients across the region. Services are offered on a referral basis to those who are not insured, are under-insured, have low income or have a general inability to pay for their medications. It is aimed at people living with chronic conditions.

The local outfit taps a variety of public and private services that can help those who qualify get their medications at a reduced cost — or for free.

Breanne Terwiske, the pharmacy technician running the center, explained that when patients are referred to her by their providers, she checks their list of medications and links them to programs that may supply the medications. It is then up to those individual programs as to whether the request is approved.

Assistance avenues include co-pay coupon cards and free programs offered through drug companies that produce the medications as well as national foundations, like the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.

Qualification for those programs is based on the patient’s income compared to the federal poverty level. It usually takes between four and six weeks for a patient to receive the medications after sending applications, after which the patient is typically enrolled in the program for a year.

Medications are not held at the resource center and not all medications can be provided through its services. But numbers from the resource center’s pilot work show that Terwiske met with 89 patients and secured assistance amounting to just over $39,000. She estimated the local center has been able to assist at least 90 percent of its referrals in some way.

“These patients, they would go to the pharmacy and they would not be able to afford their medicine,” Terwiske said. “Most of them would walk away and not tell anyone that they couldn’t afford it.”

She continued: “To them, it was embarrassing. But we are making this a process to tell them that is why these companies offer this assistance. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to come to me. This is what we want you to do.”

A multidisciplinary group at the hospital identified the need for the resource center’s services by tracking discharged patients through research that began in early 2017. Over and over again, the team heard medication affordability was a huge issue.

A steroid-based inhaler typically costs $250 dollars a month for someone living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for example. Munning painted the picture: Some have to choose between the tiny inhaler and the same amount of money in groceries for a family.

“When you have someone on a fixed income, mainly people on Medicare who do not get any kind of break on their medication coverage, what are you going to put [on the table]?” she asked. “This table full of food, or one little inhaler that fits in your hand?”

The Memorial Hospital Foundation will fund the resource center’s opening year, and the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary will fund it for the following three years. Sister Renee Cunningham said “if they need more (funding), they just have to ask. We’ll continue to fund it as long as it’s profitable to patients.”

During her interview with The Herald, Terwiske recalled a moment from earlier in the day. A patient she works with cried tears of happiness when all of her assistance requests were approved.

“Obviously, it makes my job super rewarding,” Terwiske said. “But just to know that she can now provide Christmas to her family when she couldn’t before ... that makes it sincerely worthwhile for me and for everybody who provided this service.”

The Mary Potter Medication Resource Center requests health care provider referrals. If you have questions about whether or not you are eligible, or if you would like applications for your medications, the center can be contacted at 996-1015.




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