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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.

    Free Prescription Drugs: Where's the Catch? continued...

    "Companies like to be seen as good corporate citizens," says Sagall. "They give away to these programs in the same way that they might donate to the symphony or a museum."

    He also says these programs help the pharmaceutical companies advertise their medicines. And there's always the hope that uninsured people who get a drug for free might become loyal to it.

    "Then later if they get insurance and can actually pay for it," Sagall says, "they will stick with the drug."

    Another catch, for some, is that many PAPs require you to share financial information and that can be unnerving for people who want such information private. But Hardin, who runs the drug assistance programs for NORD, says it's often crucial.

    "We have to use a financial means test," he says. "We just can't have millionaires applying for this. We have to draw the line somewhere."

    Joining a Drug Assistance Program

    While you can sign up directly with a drug company program, it's often a good idea to get help -- especially if you have multiple prescriptions.

    Hardin estimates that most of the people she deals with are on seven to 10 medications and so may need to sign up with several drug companies. To simplify the process, several organizations can guide people toward the drug programs they need.

    Some of the major ones include:

    • Access to Benefits Coalition (202-479-6670) is sponsored by the National Council on Aging. The site has information about Medicare and other drug assistance plans.
    • NeedyMeds (215-625-9609) provides information about drug assistance from pharmaceutical, state, and local programs, as well as programs for people with specific diseases.
    • Partnership for Prescription Assistance (1-888-4PPA-NOW) offers access to more than 475 public and private patient assistance programs, including more than 180 drug company programs.
    • RxAssist (401-729-3284) offers access to drug company programs.
    • Rx Outreach (1-800-769-3880) directly offers generic drugs at a reduced price. "While the drugs aren't free," says Sagall, "they are very, very inexpensive."

    Some sites may request personal information; others allow you to stay anonymous. If you have concerns about these or similar sites, ask your doctor for recommendations -- or do more research before using them.

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