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Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

Ineligible for Medicare? State and pharmaceutical assistance programs can help you find the drug benefits you need.
WebMD Feature

Medicare at last offers prescription drug benefits for people 65 or older. But what if you have a limited income and don't qualify for Medicare -- where can you get help?

Fortunately, there are options if you know where to look. Drug companies, state governments, and charitable organizations are helping people with low incomes afford their prescriptions.

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A good day for registered pharmacist Michelle Kasperowitz, 37, is when she's peppered with questions. They can range from which blood pressure monitor to buy to whether a rash is poison ivy. And, because she works in a supermarket, she gets lots of food-related inquiries as well. "One man came up to me recently, waving a bag of broccoli," says Kasperowitz, who works at the ShopRite Pharmacy in Woodbridge, N.J. "He's on a blood thinner, and he wanted to know if he could eat it." Kasperowitz's job...

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"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.

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