A study published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) in 2008 found that the bulk of free samples were distributed to patients who already had insurance coverage and were more likely to be able to purchase a prescription of the drug.
Help from the Makers In spring 2005, the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) launched a service called the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), which provides information about hundreds of private and government programs that can help low-income patients fill prescriptions for little or no cost. According to Kaiser some 41 percent of the 1,659 adults surveyed reported having at least some difficulty paying for prescription drugs. PhRMA says that drugmakers give away $4 billion worth of prescription drugs annually through their assistance programs.
PPA is perhaps best known for its television ads featuring talk show host Montel Williams promoting "The Help Is Here Express," bright orange buses that stop in communities to provide assistance and information to people having a tough time paying for meds.
Since the PPA began, more than 5.5 million people across the country have signed up for one or more of the 475 participating programs, says PhRMA vice president, Ed Belkin. He notes that some drug company assistance programs have been around for more than 50 years, but many consumers do not know they exist or how to apply for the benefits.
"Clearly, in the wake of the economic downturn ... there are more and more people turning to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, because these ... programs are a lifeline," Belkin says.
The PPA sponsors a toll-free number: 1 (888) 4-PPA-NOW (1-888-477-2669) and a Web site where people can check out programs and obtain applications. The programs each have different eligibility requirements.
Shopping for a Solution Nearly 30 percent of Americans reported last year that they did not fill prescriptions because of cost, and 23 percent said they split pills or skipped doses to stretch out supplies, according to the Kaiser study.
But as retailers lower their prices, more people will be able to take the proper dosage of their meds, Wal-Mart spokesperson Christi Gallagher says.
She notes that the company's customers have saved more than $1 billion in drug costs since the chain lowered its generic drug prices three years ago. "Our customers are constantly telling us how much they appreciate the program," Gallagher says.