Savings sought for senior
by Bret Bradigan
It's no secret that prescription drugs are expensive. But
when the cost of needed medications increases while health insurance
coverage decreases, often senior citizens on fixed incomes are
left with tough decisions to make.
But like a hero in an old-fashioned Western, Help of Ojai has
once again appeared on the scene with a solution that may save
the day, or at least save seniors some money.
Karen Kaminski, project director for Help's Oak View branch,
has initiated the Prescription Drug Assistance pilot program.
Kaminski and a few Help volunteers meet one-on-one with low-income
seniors, document which prescriptions they use, and then search
the Internet for the best prices available for the drugs.
"So many seniors are being hard hit by the rising cost of
prescription drugs at a time when insurance plans are cutting
back on benefits," Kaminski said. "We're hoping to
identify alternatives for people on limited incomes who can no
longer afford the high cost of medication."
Audrey Brooks, a HELP volunteer who conducts the Internet searches,
said she frequently finds savings of 40 to 70 percent for low-income
seniors who request the service. The dramatic savings come from
Canadian pharmacies whose medication costs are more stringently
controlled by their government, she said.
Patient names are kept confidential, but Brooks gave several
examples of the price breaks she's found. For example, an Albuterol
aerosol inhaler, used for breathing problems, costs about $100
for a one-month supply from a local pharmacy. A three month supply
for the same inhaler purchased through a Canadian pharmacy, is
just $19.95, Brooks said.
"One lady was paying $1,600 out of pocket for her prescriptions,
but we were able to narrow that down to about $700," Brooks
Senior citizen patients with HMO coverage may have spending caps
placed on their prescription drugs costs. If the cost of the
drugs extends beyond that cap, suddenly patients are met with
the harsh reality of the drug's retail price.
"We're in the middle of a healthcare crisis in this country
that's going to get worse before it gets better," Kaminski
Around 100 manufacturing companies produce prescription drugs
in the United States, Kaminski said. Each has some sort of drug
giveaway, but each company's program varies. The website needymeds.com
was launched by a group of doctors who wanted to weed out the
intricacies of which program was available from which company.
The site also has many giveaway program applications posted for
The pilot program does include some risk, including seizure of
drugs being shipped over the international border, but this hasn't
been a problem for HELP's clients yet. Since HELP acts only as
an information clearing house, the patient must take further
initiative in order to actually take advantage of the program.
"The doctor has to fill in the patient information, medical
records and prescription and then fax it to the Canadian pharmacy,"
Kaminski said. So far most local doctors have been supportive
of what HELP is doing, Kaminski said.
Seniors wishing to make use of this service can contact Kaminsky
at 649-1294 or at her pager, 677-8016. Brooks can be reached
by phone at 640-3684. Patients are asked to bring their pill
bottles to their appointments.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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