Most U.S. pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and market medications in the United States have programs in which they give free medications to select indigent people who lack prescription drug insurance. These programs are commonly called Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs). Recently, these PAPs have become better known to the public, though in the current health care reform debate they have received surprisingly little attention.
The potential use of PAPs is huge, since up to 40 million Americans lack health insurance. According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry group, nationwide drug companies gave away $8 billion in medications by filling 35 million prescriptions in 2009.
Some of the older drug companies have offered free drugs for over 50 years. Historically, much of that was done informally by delivering free medications at doctors’ offices. However, as the number of the manufacturers proliferated, the drug companies began to set up formal programs in which individual patients would apply for free drugs directly to the drug companies. There are presently more than 250 free drug programs in the United States. Although there are similarities in the different programs, the specific requirements and paperwork vary from program to program.
A business I started back in 2003 arose from the fact that PAPs are complex in nature and scope; and they are not user friendly, especially when one considers that the target audience of these programs – often elderly, indigent patients with high cost medication needs and no insurance as well as often low education and awareness – is usually poorly equipped to deal with PAPs’ complex rules and eligibility requirements. Also the amount of documentation that some programs demand are daunting even for savvy patients. Plus over the years many programs have been changed, canceled or suspended without notice and most programs require differing documentation. So, for example, one maker of cardiovascular women’s health medication recently unilaterally suspended its free drug program for new patients because it stated that it was oversubscribed. Applicants for free medication may have difficulty submitting their paperwork to the drug companies, because there are many different PAPs, and many eligible drugs. Many of the forms for free medication are only available on the Internet. Many of the indigent Americans who qualify for free medications through a PAP lack Internet access. In 2003, even fewer indigent Americans who qualified for free medication had access to the Internet, where some (but not all) forms were available. We sought to fulfill the needs of up to 40 million Americans by assisting them in obtaining free medication for which they were qualified but either did not know that they were eligible; or alternatively they lacked the knowledge or ability to apply for free medications themselves.