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    If you cannot afford the prescription drugs you need, you may be eligible for patient assistance programs offered by drug makers, nonprofit groups, or state governments. Here's an overview of how patient assistance programs work.

    Patient Assistance Programs Run by Drug Companies

    To get the process started, you need to mail an application to the drug company, along with information about your financial situation. You can usually download an application from the company’s web site. In most cases, your doctor will need to fill in information about your prescriptions.

    The drug company will review the application and let you know if you are eligible for assistance. If approved, many companies will ship a supply of the drug to your home or health care provider’s office. You or your provider will need to place a new order several weeks before the supply runs out.

    Assistance Programs Run by States

    Many states offer medication assistance programs. Programs vary by state, but they tend to be geared toward people who are elderly, disabled, or in financial need. Some programs are for those with specific conditions, such as HIV/AIDS or end-stage kidney disease. Programs may also coordinate with Medicare benefit plans. You may see these programs referred to as state pharmaceutical assistance programs (SPAP).

    Assistance Programs Run by Nonprofit Groups

    • Partnership for Prescription Assistance -- sponsored by drug companies, doctors, patient advocacy organizations, and civic groups -- helps low-income, uninsured patients get free or low-cost brand-name medications.
    • NeedyMeds is a nonprofit organization that maintains an extensive database of information about patient assistance programs, state assistance, drug discount programs, and free or low-cost medical care. You can search their database for free on their web site. The site also has information on thousands of application assistance programs, which help consumers navigate the application process.
    • RxAssist is an online database of drug company programs that provide free or affordable drugs and co-pay assistance.
    • Center for Benefits, provided by the National Council on Aging, provides information about assistance programs for low-income seniors and young people with disabilities.
    • RxHope is a web-based resource where you can search by medication to locate assistance programs. They also offer help with the application process.
    • RxOutreach is a mail order pharmacy for people with little to no health insurance coverage.