Carroll County seniors who don't qualify for state help with prescription drug costs may be eligible to receive free medicine from the drug companies themselves, said Ann U. Allen, coordinator of the state program, Senior Information and Assistance.
Ms. Allen devised a system to put seniors' doctors in touch with the drug manufacturers' free-drug programs. The programs help people whose incomes are low, but not low enough to qualify for state help.
About 120 people have taken advantage of her help locating free prescriptions in the past year, Ms. Allen said. They saved an estimated $600 each.
Ms. Allen received a citation from the governor last year for her work.
The benefit for the drug companies is that they receive valuable marketing information, such as the names and addresses of doctors and information on which drugs are most often prescribed.
Many older people spend $200 to $400 a month on prescription medicines, Ms. Allen said, and some spend $500 or more.
According to a 1992 report from the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, people over age 65 take an average of 15 prescriptions a year, more than three times as many as people under age 65.
Government help paying for prescription medicines is available only to people with very little money.
Single people are eligible for the Maryland Pharmacy Assistance Program if their income is less than $666.67 a month and their assets are below $3,750. A couple is eligible if their income is under $725 a month and their assets are less than $4,500.
"These figures are so incredibly low," Ms. Allen said, that many people do not qualify.
Knowing that many seniors who don't qualify for state help cannot afford the medicine they need, Ms. Allen wrote to 30 drug manufacturers to ask whether they offered free drugs for people unable to pay for them.
To her surprise, almost all the drug companies offered such programs. Many of the drug companies even provide toll-free 800 numbers for the programs, she said.
The drug companies' programs are designed to help people who don't qualify for government help paying for drugs, and who do not have private insurance that covers prescriptions.
Income eligibility requirements vary. Some companies offer free drugs to seniors with incomes as high as $25,000 a year for a couple, Ms. Allen said.
To help a senior tap into the programs, a Senior Information and Assistance worker conducts an interview. If the senior qualifies, the interviewer writes to his or her doctor, verifying that the person has a low income and no prescription drug benefits. The letter also tells the doctor how to get in touch with the appropriate company's free prescription program.
It is then up to the doctor to contact the drug company. The Senior Information and Assistance office is not authorized to distribute drugs.
"There are doctors who simply don't want to worry about it," Ms. Allen said, but others are very helpful.
The drug manufacturer then will supply the medicine. Some companies supply a drug for a limited term, often three months; others provide the medicine for the lifetime of the patient.
For more information, call the Senior Information and Assistance office at 848-4049, 875-3342, or 876-3363, Ext. 49.