GUESTCOMMENTARY: MEDICINE SHOULD NOT BE A LUXURY

Rose Mary Hoy, RPh
Published Online: Thursday, September 1, 2005

Helping patients achieve and maintain good health through medications is a goal that all pharmacists share. The profession continues to adopt new practice models to expand the ability to provide care, yet some patients continue to struggle to afford their medicines. Unfortunately, approximately 45 million people are without health insurance coverage in this country, and medication is a "luxury" that some cannot afford. Patients receive no benefit from drugs that they cannot take home with them.

Merck believes that nobody should go without the medicines they need because they cannot afford them. For this reason, Merck has developed the following programs:

  • Merck Patient Assistance Program (PAP)—Patients without prescription drug coverage may qualify for free Merck medicines if they have a household income below $19,140 for individuals, $25,660 for couples, and $38,700 for a family of 4. Patients with incomes in excess of these amounts with special circumstances can request that an exception be made through their physicians. A single application can provide up to 1 year of free medication. Patients can have their medicines delivered to their doctors or right to their doors.
  • Merck Prescription Discount Program—Anyone without prescription drug insurance, regardless of age or income, is eligible for this program, which offers discounts of up to 40% off many Merck medications. This community pharmacy-based program also offers an Instant Savings Certificate that patients can use immediately for 10% off many Merck products even before enrolling in the program. It is important to note that discounts offered through the Merck program are not insurance and are not intended to be a substitute for insurance.
  • Merck Medicare Assistance Program— To preserve access for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, Merck provides its medicines to participating discount card program plans free of charge once eligible beneficiaries have exhausted their annual $600 allowance from the federal government. Although the drug costs are completely waived, the pharmacy may continue to charge its usual dispensing fee, but Merck will receive no portion of the fees.

Enrollment is free, and there are no membership fees for the life of any of these programs.

These programs can benefit a tremendous number of patients. Through Merck's PAP in 2004, the company provided 6.7 million free medicines to 700,000 people. And, within the first month of launch of the Merck Prescription Discount Program earlier this year, more than 15,000 patients enrolled, and nearly 450,000 downloaded information from the program Web site.

Pharmacists must work with Merck to ensure that patients are aware of these programs and that they can enroll and use them with ease and convenience. Pharmacists play an enormously important role in helping patients obtain the medications they need. While Merck will continue to promote these programs through advertising and grassroots outreach, familiarity with these programs will help pharmacists to answer patient questions and will enhance their role as trusted and reliable sources of information. Merck encourages pharmacists, pharmacy colleagues, and patients to visit www.merckhelps.com to learn more about the programs and to download enrollment forms.

Ms. Hoy is the executive director of pharmacy & senior health, Merck & Co Inc.



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