What is the prescription?
Why do I need this drug?
What will this drug do for me?
How much do I take, how often, and for how long?
Does it matter what time of day I take this drug?
What side effects should I watch for?
What should I do if I have a bad reaction?
How will this drug interact with other prescription or over-the-counter drugs I am taking?
How will this drug interact with vitamins, herbal supplements, or foods?
If I feel better before I finish the prescr...
"These programs really work," says Scott L. Parkin, vice president of communications for the National Council on Aging. "They help millions of people get medications that they couldn't otherwise afford."
To make these programs work for you, WebMD turned to some experts for advice.
Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs
Drug companies offer some of the best pharmaceutical assistance programs (PAPs), giving away medicine for free -- or at significant discounts -- to those that are eligible.
"These programs have been wonderful," says Maria Hardin, vice president of patient services at the National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD) in Danbury, Conn. "It's now the norm that when a new drug gets approved, the company will create a program to give it away to some people who can't afford it."
Of course, not everyone is eligible. For example, some pharmaceutical companies set income caps and "the paperwork for different programs varies quite a bit," says Rich Sagall, president and co-founder of NeedyMeds, a nonprofit that provides information about financial assistance for drugs.
Sagall also warns that some health care providers may be slow in filling out the forms and "some people say that their doctors will charge them $15 for paperwork."
If that happens to you, Sagall recommends talking honestly with your doctor about your financial situation.
"If that doesn't work, I do know of some patients who have dropped their old doctor to find a new one who would not charge," he says.
Sagall points out that none of these pharmaceutical assistance programs are good for people in an emergency.
"These programs won't work in an acute situation," he says. "If you need a drug tomorrow, you're not going to get it from a PAP."
Free Prescription Drugs: Where's the Catch?
Of course, cynics might wonder why pharmaceutical companies may give away their costly drugs for free.