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High prescription bills hitting hard? Help is out there

Jackson — Help is out there, you just have to know where to look. That’s why more than 40 Mississippi groups have joined together to spread the word about prescription assistance programs that help people get the medicine they need.

The groups partnered to create the recently-launched Mississippi chapter of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA). PPA is a national program that acts as a single point of access to more than 275 public and private programs that provide medicine for free or nearly free. These include more than 150 programs offered through pharmaceutical companies themselves.

The partners hope to get the word out to the more than 300,000 Mississippians — approximately 40% of the state’s population — who are uninsured and fall below 200% of the federal poverty level, which is a household income of $19,000 for a single person and under $38,000 for a family of four.

Vicksburg physician Randy Easterling works with patients every day who can’t afford the medicine they need to manage chronic illnesses and prevent serious complications. Many have to make a decision between keeping the lights on or paying their prescription bills, said Easterling, director of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians which is a partner in the state chapter of PPA.

“This program addresses a huge problem — access to medicine for the uninsured,” he said. “All of our citizens deserve access to quality care, and all of our citizens deserve access to quality medications.”

Dr. Aaron Shirley, chairman of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation, is another PPA supporter. The Jackson Medical Mall, an ambulatory healthcare facility that was set up in the 1990s to serve Jackson’s urban poor, sees thousands of uninsured patients every day. Jackson hospitals refer patients who come to their emergency rooms to the Jackson Medical Mall to learn about the care they can receive there, and Shirley sees a direct connection between being uninsured and being sick.

“Lack of access to prescription medicines in many instances is the reason they have to go to the emergency room in the first place,” said Shirley.

The foundation is a partner in Mississippi’s PPA program, and Shirley hopes the medical mall will be used as a resource by the other partners. A kiosk was set up in the lobby so medical mall patients can apply for help while they are there for medical care.

PPA has created two simple ways to sign up for prescription assistance. Patients can call PPA’s toll-free number and speak with a counselor or go to the Web site and fill out a short application with information on current medications, age, income and eligibility of coverage through other programs like Medicare. There is no charge to enroll.

If they quality for one or more programs, the medication is mailed to the person’s home or to their doctor’s office, and some assistance programs mail a prescription card that the patient can use at their pharmacy.

Last year, patients received 22 million prescriptions worth more than $4.2 billion through the prescription assistance programs. Unfortunately, many needy patients do not know these programs exist — a problem the Mississippi PPA hopes to alleviate.

Dorothy Leoni-Glasser, a nurse practitioner in Atlanta, is a passionate spokesperson for PPA, and she visited Jackson recently to help spread the word about the program. Over the last 25 years, Glasser battled cancer twice and lives with a severe form of lupus. Her illnesses caused her to lose all of her medical insurance, including her prescription coverage. With a monthly prescription bill of $600 to $800, Glasser went to PPA for help and has experienced a 40% savings.

“PPA has made a difference in my financial situation,” said Glasser. “My ability to support myself has made a dramatic difference in my lifestyle and in my ability to continue to go out there and help other people gain full access to medications,” said Glasser.

Patients can call (888) 4PPA-NOW or go to the Web site, www.pparxms.org. to see if they may be eligible for one or more programs.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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