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Lowering the Costs of Asthma Treatment

Asthma treatment has made great strides, but good care is costly. Here are ways to get some help.

Asthma Drug Assistance Programs

People with low incomes can get help with medical bills in various ways. Thirty-two state governments have programs that help pay for drugs for people who don't qualify for Medicaid. However, many are only open to seniors.

Another option is to get assistance directly from pharmaceutical companies. Many of them have programs that give free medicine to eligible people.

The requirements vary from program to program. For instance, GlaxoSmithKline's "Bridges to Access" program sets the income cap at $25,000 for single people or 250% of the federal poverty limit for families. The AstraZeneca Foundation's Patient Assistance Program gives free medicines to eligible single people who make $18,000 or less or couples who make $24,000 or less.

The best way to find out about these programs is to get in touch with the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org or 1-888-477-2669.) This organization directs people to more than 475 public and private assistance programs, including more than 150 programs offered by drug companies.

Once catch is that pharmaceutical companies only give you access to their own products.

"If you need more than one drug from different manufacturers, you'll need to join multiple drug assistance programs," says Bernstein.

Mayrides also recommends Rx Outreach (www.rxoutreach.com or 1-800-769-3880), which offers a similar program for generic medicines.

Joining the programs can be complicated. Some require that a doctor or nurse apply on your behalf. The company may also send your prescriptions to your doctor's office and not your home. Although the drugs themselves are usually free, you may have to pay a fee for shipping or a small co-pay.

The programs may also be time limited. "Joining these programs won't give you a lifetime supply of free medicine," Mayrides tells WebMD.

Everyone with asthma should also be using environmental control to reduce exposure to allergens. But it's especially important if you really can't afford to pay for medication, says Bernstein.

Some ways of reducing your exposure are fairly cheap. Quitting smoking will help you feel better and save you money. Wrapping your mattress and box spring in vinyl to keep out dust mites can cost as little as $20, says Bernstein.

For people who are allergic to cockroaches, the best precaution is to keep your home scrupulously clean, Edelman tells WebMD. While exterminators or roach bait may kill the roaches, their bodies may keep giving off the antigen that aggravates your asthma.

Other measures may cost more up front but be worth it in the long term.

For instance, if your home is damp, see if you can get a dehumidifier. Although they are pricey, many people with asthma do better if the humidity is below 50%.

"I know they're expensive, but I encourage people to save up for an air conditioner," says Edelman. "It can make a huge difference." Air conditioners can filter out pollen and other allergens.

But experts acknowledge that environmental control is often easier in theory than it is in practice.

"Improving the air quality in your home does require some money," says Bernstein. "Although you can do it wisely and cost effectively, if you have very few resources, it's still going to be tricky."

Bernstein also points out that, if you live in a city or industrialized area, you may be at the mercy of irritants and allergens you can't control.

"Environmental control can be a pretty big burden," says Mayrides. "Although it's cheaper than medication, taking medicine is often a lot easier."

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