March 6th, 2009

Access to Medicines

Mike Samuelson, Director, access2wellness
Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc.

Nearly two years ago, was launched to provide uninsured and underinsured individuals with a resource to more easily access prescription medications. Since that time, over two million people received information about access2wellness and many have utilized the service to secure free or discounted medications. With the current economic downturn and unemployment reaching new heights, a growing number of people are trying to save money in any way by forgoing or reducing medications. While this behavior can save short-term, out-of-pocket expenses, controllable health issues could escalate into excessive medical costs and undesired outcomes.

According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, a one percent rise in unemployment raises the current 45 million uninsured population by 1.1 million. From 2001 – 2007, those who could not afford prescriptions grew from 10% to 14% and almost two-thirds of uninsured, working age adults with at least one chronic condition could not access their medications. “I’ve seen patients today who have stopped taking their cholesterol-lowering medicine, because they can’t afford it” said Dr. James King, Chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, in a recent New York Times publication. Layoffs, shrinking bank accounts, rising medical prices and widespread anxiety that the economy is likely to worsen are prompting people to split pills, forgo screening tests such as colonoscopies, delay elective procedures and turn to home remedies as cheaper alternatives. Hospitals report that as unpaid medical bills are on the rise, pharmacists see a spike in cheaper generics and demand for low-cost care is climbing.

According to a HIPPOCRATech post about the access2wellness service: “The hardest thing for anyone to admit is that they’re not being compliant with medications because of a cost issue.” Not only are patients impacted, healthcare professionals and family members become frustrated when non-compliant patients fail to achieve their desired outcome.

So what can we do to help the growing uninsured population? Healthcare providers, family members and friends of loved ones can share information about assistance resources such as access2wellness, TogetherRxAccess, Partnership for Prescription Assistance or NeedyMeds, to help the uninsured gain access to prescription medications. Recent market research indicates that 63% of US adults are not familiar with the term prescription assistance or patient assistance programs. Many assistance programs are available online or by calling a toll-free telephone number. For qualified individuals, the programs are free to use and provide access to free or discounted prescription medications within a short time after applying.

(Marc’s note: Periodically Mike or others from the Access2Wellness program post to JNJBTW.)

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