Free Programs That Help Pay for Prescription Drugs

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

I decided to write about the high cost of prescription drugs because I am personally experiencing it and also hearing from other patients who cannot afford their medications. I found a program that can help and wanted to make sure that this information gets out to others who need proper, cost-contained, and timely access to care.

Last year I had my first experience with abandoning a prescription at the pharmacy. I developed asthma symptoms and was given a first-time script for a bronchodilator inhaler medication. My primary care provider gave me 2 free samples in his office and warned me that getting the inhaler could be expensive.

When I went to pick it up the first time, I learned that my insurance co-pay was more than $100. I am doubly insured through a group health plan/PPO through my husband’s insurance, as well as having Medicare as my secondary. If I am having trouble financially with my co-pays, then I know others must be as well.

I just couldn’t afford the inhaler and told them to put it back on the shelf. That was when my Walgreens pharmacist suggested that I Google a free savings program like WellRx and see if they had any discounts for the medication I needed.

I did find a discount card online at that helped save on the inhaler and I was able to fill the script after all. I would have never thought of doing something like this without the suggestion of my amazing pharmacist. The WellRx savings program works well for insured people with high out-of-pocket costs like me.

I have faced this situation two more times, one with a medication I was taking daily for years. The co-pay went up so high that without a savings card, I would not be able to pay for it.

The other medication I had to abandon because I couldn’t afford it, even though the savings program provided 50% off what my insurance was going to cover. Nevertheless, it was worth the look to see if I could find a discount. My provider had to substitute the medication for a different one that I could afford, although I am not sure if it worked as well as the one he originally prescribed.

I know how awful and embarrassing it feels to have to abandon a medication at the pharmacy, while you work to come up with a way to pay for it and know that you may never be able to pick it up. Now, I have my pharmacist price the medication through insurance and the WellRx program to see which is less expensive.

Recently a study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed a direct correlation between the amount of a patient’s out-of-pocket cost and the likelihood of a prescription being abandoned. They concluded that when patients have a co-pay of over $50 they are four times more likely to abandon their prescription than patients who only owe $10.

Leaving a prescription at the pharmacy and failing to follow a doctor’s instructions can lead to major health challenges, such as a condition worsening, increased side effects and symptoms, therapeutic failure, increased medical costs, and in some cases even death. A 2008 Harvard prescription study suggested that opiates, anti-platelets and statins were the least likely to be abandoned, while insulin and proton pump inhibitors were more likely to be left behind.

This is not a new issue for pharmacies, but it has become more common over the past few years. Besides cost, some other reasons for abandoning medications at the pharmacy include e-prescriptions, drug strength, taking the medication for the first time, and not understanding why the medication was prescribed.

But for me and many others, it all comes down to cost. Studies show that the higher the patient’s responsibility financially, the greater the risk of prescription abandonment. The second highest reason for abandonment is younger customers who are wary about the trying a new medication.

The take away for me is that prescription discount cards and pharmaceutical coupons can increase medication compliance, improve patient health, and lower the cost of medical care. I know that by getting the cost down for my medications, I will be more likely to comply with my doctors’ instructions.

The WellRx program I used was free. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work the first time, but the pharmacist just said print the savings card and bring it back. He did the rest for me. He knew exactly how to ring it into their register and didn’t seem to bat an eye or look down at me for using a savings card. They also have an app for Apple and Android phones for those who prefer everything digital.

WellRx also allows you to compare what the price will be at different pharmacies in your area and to search for the best discounts. It is quick and easy, and their program is accepted at more than 60,000 pharmacies across the country. They offer an average savings of 45% off the prescription cost and some of their medications are eligible for savings of up to 80 percent.

Another resource that can help is the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which helps uninsured and underinsured patients connect with hundreds of public and private assistance programs that provide free or low-cost prescription drugs.

LowestMed has a free mobile app that allows you to research and compare prescription prices at pharmacies in your area. You then show the discounted price on your phone to a participating pharmacy. The price you see is the price you pay.

I love being able to pass savings tips on to others. Prescription discount programs are a great tool not only for the chronically ill, but also for healthy people who have an unexpected medical problem and need help paying for their prescriptions.

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.