GUESTCOMMENTARY: MEDICINE SHOULD NOT BE A LUXURY
Helping patients achieve and maintaingood health through medicationsis a goal that all pharmacistsshare. The profession continues to adoptnew practice models to expand the abilityto provide care, yet some patients continueto struggle to afford their medicines.Unfortunately, approximately 45million people are without health insurancecoverage in this country, and medicationis a "luxury" that some cannotafford. Patients receive no benefit fromdrugs that they cannot take home withthem.
Merck believes that nobody should gowithout the medicines they need becausethey cannot afford them. For this reason,Merck has developed the following programs:
- Merck Patient Assistance Program(PAP)—Patients without prescriptiondrug coverage may qualifyfor free Merck medicines if they havea household income below $19,140for individuals, $25,660 for couples,and $38,700 for a family of 4.Patients with incomes in excess ofthese amounts with special circumstancescan request that an exceptionbe made through their physicians.A single application canprovide up to 1 year of free medication.Patients can have their medicinesdelivered to their doctors orright to their doors.
- Merck Prescription DiscountProgram—Anyone without prescriptiondrug insurance, regardless ofage or income, is eligible for this program,which offers discounts of up to40% off many Merck medications.This community pharmacy-basedprogram also offers an Instant SavingsCertificate that patients can useimmediately for 10% off many Merckproducts even before enrolling in theprogram. It is important to note thatdiscounts offered through the Merckprogram are not insurance and arenot intended to be a substitute forinsurance.
- Merck Medicare Assistance Program—To preserve access for low-incomeMedicare beneficiaries,Merck provides its medicines to participatingdiscount card programplans free of charge once eligiblebeneficiaries have exhausted theirannual $600 allowance from the federalgovernment. Although the drugcosts are completely waived, thepharmacy may continue to charge itsusual dispensing fee, but Merck willreceive no portion of the fees.
Enrollment is free, and there are nomembership fees for the life of any ofthese programs.
These programs can benefit a tremendousnumber of patients. ThroughMerck's PAP in 2004, the company provided6.7 million free medicines to700,000 people. And, within the firstmonth of launch of the Merck PrescriptionDiscount Program earlier this year,more than 15,000 patients enrolled, andnearly 450,000 downloaded informationfrom the program Web site.
Pharmacists must work with Merck toensure that patients are aware of theseprograms and that they can enroll anduse them with ease and convenience.Pharmacists play an enormously importantrole in helping patients obtain themedications they need. While Merck willcontinue to promote these programsthrough advertising and grassroots outreach,familiarity with these programswill help pharmacists to answer patientquestions and will enhance their role astrusted and reliable sources of information.Merck encourages pharmacists,pharmacy colleagues, and patients to visitwww.merckhelps.com to learn moreabout the programs and to downloadenrollment forms.
Ms. Hoy is the executive director of pharmacy& senior health, Merck & Co Inc.