Rx for High Cost of Prescription Drugs

New Internet program helps seniors find big savings

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By
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, April 25, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- You've seen their stories on the evening news: The elderly woman forced to eat cat food or the aging man who suffers without heat in the dead of winter.

Their problem: Trying to save enough money to pay for lifesaving prescription drugs.

While many Americans struggle with the high cost of health care, seniors often take the brunt of the beating.

"This is a significant problem. And the worst part is that many seniors are too embarrassed or ashamed to tell their families or even their doctor that they can't afford a medication they need to survive," says Eileen Zenker, assistant director of social work at New York University Medical Center.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, up to 80 percent of all retirees take a prescription drug every day. Yet, the Kaiser Foundation reports that four of every 10 Medicare beneficiaries have no drug coverage of any kind.

Another report by the Kaiser Foundation revealed that nearly one-quarter of all seniors don't even fill their much-needed prescriptions because they can't afford to -- or they try to save money by taking fewer pills.

"And most don't tell their doctor they are doing this, so they (doctors) can't get an accurate picture of the patient's health. They may assume, for example, that a drug is not working or that the patient's condition is worsening, when in reality it's simply that they are not taking their medication," Zenker says.

The good news is some help has arrived, courtesy of the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) and a program called BenefitsCheckupRX. It's a fast, easy-to-use online database devoted to helping low- and middle-income seniors find cost-saving programs for prescription drugs.

"The goal was to bring together all the various public and private discount drug programs for seniors and centralize the information in one place, plus make it fast and easy to find out if you are eligible, and ultimately, supply you with the information needed to contact the various programs," says Scott Parkin, spokesman for the NCOA.

Currently, the site supplies information on more than 240 public and private prescription savings programs, including state and federal initiatives along with those sponsored by individual drug companies. Included in the database is discount information on nearly 800 of the most commonly used prescription medications.

To see if they qualify, all seniors need to do is complete a safe, secure and brief online questionnaire. The computer program does the rest.

"In a matter of a few minutes, the service displays a personalized report that specifies which programs the person is eligible for, plus offers detailed instructions on how to enroll," Parkin says.

Once enrolled in a discount program, you receive all the necessary information to purchase your prescription at the discounted price at a local pharmacy. While not all pharmacies honor all prescription discount plans, most major chain drugstores and many smaller independent pharmacies do, Parkin says.

HealthDay tried the program, looking for savings on two common blood pressure medications used together -- Norvasc and Atacand. The normal cost for a 30-day supply of each can range from $40 to $65 -- for a total of $80 to $130, depending on your purchase location.

Using two options suggested by BenefitsCheckupRX, the total cost for a 30-day supply of both drugs combined was just $25.

"Programs like these allow seniors to not only get their much-needed medication, but to keep their much-needed sense of pride and independence," Zenker says. This, she says, can go a long way toward improving both their mental and physical health.

Currently the program is available only in English, but a Spanish version is expected to be online this summer. For those who don't have a computer or are unfamiliar with navigating Web sites, NCOA suggests asking a close family friend or relative to log on and help out. And many senior centers, libraries and even doctors' offices and clinics offer online access and may be able to help, Zenker says.

In addition to NCOA, BenefitsCheckupRX is supported by The Commonwealth Fund, AARP, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, America Online, Lucent Technologies, The Merck Company Foundation, The Archstone Foundation, FJC Foundation, Pfizer, and Together-RX.

More information

To learn more about BenefitsCheckupRx, click here. For more on seniors and the high cost of prescription drugs, visit the Kaiser Foundation.

SOURCES: Eileen Zenker, MSW, assistant director, social work, New York University Medical Center, New York City; Scott Parkin, spokesman, National Council on the Aging, Washington, D.C.

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