Friday, November 20, 2009
Nonprofit Dispensary of Hope pharmacy serves needs of uninsured
By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • November 19, 2009 A local nonprofit drug assistance program will expand to give more uninsured Tennesseans access to critical medications at a time when many prescriptions are 9 percent more costly than they were a year ago. The Dispensary of Hope has partnered with three national pharmaceutical companies — Merck, Novartis and AstraZeneca — to make sure there is a consistent, plentiful supply of medications for people who cannot afford them. Other companies are expected to sign on. The pharmaceutical companies already have drug assistance programs, but patients have to apply directly to each company, which can take longer. Under the new Continued Access Program, the Dispensary will become a central order-and-fill pharmacy location for thousands of people in Tennessee and across the country. "This simplifies distribution," said Scott Cornwell, chief operating officer for the Dispensary. "It adds more resources but also gives us a consistent supply of medication that patients need." An estimated 800,000 Tennesseans were uninsured in 2008. With the recession, that number is expected to reach 1 million in the next year. "There is typically the belief that if you are uninsured, you are unemployed," Cornwell said. "We are seeing more uninsured working people." At the same time, the prescription drugs that people need are getting more expensive, an AARP study showed recently. Many popular brand-name prescription prices had increased by about 9 percent from October 2008 to September 2009. The average annual cost for one brand-name medication was about $2,045, according to the advocacy group for seniors. How program works More than 20,000 Tennesseans accessed the drug aid program in 2008, and with this initiative, the staff hopes the Dispensary will serve that many more. The Dispensary has 47 medications for chronic conditions that include diabetes, heart disease and neurological disorders. The Dispensary gets its supply from physicians' offices, distributors and manufacturers that send donated medications to the program's distribution center. Often the medications are brand names. Partner sites send prescription orders to the Dispensary and then distribute the medicine to patients. The Continued Access Program could benefit many people who don't know about each pharmaceutical company's aid efforts. "It's unfortunate that many people who would otherwise utilize these resources don't simply because they don't know they exist," said Jennifer McGovern, director of patient assistance programs for AstraZeneca. Since it was founded in 2003 in Nashville, the Dispensary has expanded from one site to more than 49 sites across the country. The program grew out of trips that health officials took to local clinics where they found the biggest need was prescription assistance. More than 200,000 people have been served since its inception. "It is truly a model of care for the nation," said state health commissioner Susan Cooper. "What we saw in one little clinic has morphed into a program that has helped tens of thousands of Tennesseans."
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