There are relatively painless ways to save money during economic duress, such as skipping dinners out and movies on the weekends. And then there are desperate measures, such as cutting back on prescribed medications.


There are relatively painless ways to save money during economic duress, such as skipping dinners out and movies on the weekends. And then there are desperate measures, such as cutting back on prescribed medications.

“People are not getting their prescriptions filled in a timely manner. They let them run out, they cut them in half, people do a lot of things so they can get by,” said Pat Carroll-Grant, executive director of the Delaware Pharmacists Society.

It’s not a Delaware-specific issue, either, according to Ken Johnson, senior vice president of PhRMA, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The group sponsors the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which attempts to connect pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, patient advocacy organizations and communities to help qualifying patients who lack prescription coverage get the medicines they need.

Perhaps the Partnership’s most recognizable effort is the Help is Here Express bus, which has helped approximately 20,000 people during the buses’ eight trips to Delaware.

Johnson said from August to October, there has been between an 8 percent and 12 percent national increase in requests for help.

Much of this increase, according to Johnson, is from people who have lost their jobs, including their health insurance.

Dr. Keith Sargent’s patients face the same issues here in Dover.

“It seems that here in the past few months, we’re seeing more and more of that all the time,” he said.

Sargent has people asking for prescriptions from Wal-Mart’s $4 list, or even switching from medications they already take to $4 substitutes.

The good news is nearly every prescription has a generic now, according to Sargent.

The problem that can pose for him, though, is that it limits his flexibility. For example, if somebody has high cholesterol and is on a generic medication that doesn’t agree with them, it’s sometimes difficult to find a replacement in the lower price range.

He’ll often go with the less expensive medication if his patient tells him they’re under a financial strain, even though it might not be his first choice, Sargent said.

“The financial situation does really shape the prescribing habits of the doctor,” he said. “The reality of it is I would rather have my patient on a less expensive medication that they’ll take than a more expensive medication that they’ll never take.”

Occasionally, Sargent will give his patient a pharmaceutical company’s promotional voucher for 30 days of a prescription. That can be a tricky solution, though.

“What do you do with the patient once that promotional period is over?” Sargent asked.

His advice to those having a difficult time affording medication is to be honest with their doctor.

Sargent said if he knows a patient is strapped for money, he will be more diligent in looking for bargains or alternatives. But he doesn’t know if money is an issue if his patients don’t tell him.

Johnson echoed Sargent’s thoughts on at least asking for help, whether it be from a doctor or the Partnership for Prescription Assistance.

“You don’t lose anything by trying,” he said.

Sometimes the help available isn’t enough.

Many seniors take advantage of Medicare Part D, which can cover nearly all drug costs for those 65 and older and with disabilities. Unfortunately, according to Carroll-Grant, there is a loophole, or doughnut hole.

Some patients may have been paying $5 or $10 for their medications through the year, and now that December has rolled around those patients are out of their allowance. That $5 or $10 drug might now be $100 from the patient’s pocket, Carroll-Grant said.

Delaware’s participating PPA programs are the Delaware Healthy Children Program and the Delaware Prescription Assistance Program.

For more information on the Healthy Children Program or the Prescription Assistance Program call 800-996-9969.

Carroll-Grant lauded the state’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, which provides emergency services, medication and supplies to the state’s diabetics on a case-by-case basis.

For information, including whether or not a patient qualifies, visit www.dhss.delaware.gov/dph/dpc/diabetesfund.html, or call 744-1020.