April 17, 2000 (San Francisco) -- Drug companies offer a variety of patient assistance programs, but finding out about them, and learning whether you qualify, is often difficult.
The problem stems from the fact that there is no uniformity to the process: each company has its own policies and programs. Many of these programs are organized around an illness and, more pointedly, around the medication or family of medications used to treat a disease. Nearly a dozen companies offer special assistance for AIDS/HIV drugs and 22 companies have reimbursement assistance programs for cancer drugs. In most of these programs, patients are judged eligible on a case-by-case basis and must contact the drug companies to get details themselves.
The next time your doctor writes you a prescription, consider this: The medication may not be approved for your specific condition or age group.
But you probably shouldn't call the medical board. The practice, called "off-label" prescribing, is entirely legal and very common. More than one in five outpatient prescriptions written in the U.S. are for off-label therapies.
"Off-label" means the medication is being used in a manner not specified in the FDA's approved packaging label, or insert. Every...
But various medical schools and non-profit organizations are attempting to bring some order to this chaos:
OncoLink -- A cancer-information web site run through the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center. This site has medical information about the various types of cancer treatments and prevention, as well as a comprehensive listing of companies offering reimbursement programs.
RxAssist -- A general patient assistance program web site maintained by Volunteers in Healthcare with sponsorship by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. RxAssist offers a database searchable by company and information about who may qualify for the programs and how to apply. In many cases, application forms for the programs can be downloaded from the site.
Aidsinfonyc -- An informational web site for AIDS/HIV patients and advocates. The site serves as a center for many New York-area AIDS groups, but it also offers information useful to any AIDS/HIV patient. The site also offers information about drug trials and patient assistance programs.
Kristi Coale is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who specializes in science and medical issues. Her work has appeared in Salon, Wired, and The Nation.