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Monday, October 6, 2014

Needy Meds: Making medicine affordable

Dr. Rich Sagall’s story:
     In the late 1990s, I was still doing Family Medicine and Occupational Medicine.  A medical social worker friend of mine told me about Patient Assistance Programs.  I was in Bangor, Maine and she was in Mississippi.  She had made a small database that she kept on her laptop.  During home visits, she would look up the programs her patients could make use of. 

     I’d taught myself to code HTML.  I thought, this would be a good project to use that, so I started inputting data on patient assistance programs on weekends and after hours.  I put a counter on the website.  I felt guilty about it, because my own visits to the website would inflate the count.  At first, there were maybe 50 visits a day; maybe three of those were mine, so the total really wasn’t so big.  

     Now Needy Meds has grown over the last 17 years.  We have 20 employees, data on 7,000 points of savings (programs, coupons, co-pay cards, camps, etc.), 13,000 free/low cost/sliding scale clinics, and 8,000 to 10,000 visits a day to our website.  We’ve gotten a lot of emails and letters from people about their savings, saying they never knew about patient assistance programs before that.  We make medicine affordable when it’s unaffordable.

     But I can’t tell you about the specific patients we’ve helped.  That’s because of our philosophy:  we want to put the fewest obstacles in the way of people getting the information.  So we don’t have registration, or log-in, or sign-in.  We want access to be anonymous, since some people were concerned about putting their personal information on the Web.  They just type in the drug name, and we give them all the information, including an interactive pdf.

     Now we’re way beyond just medicines; now we have copay cards, coupons, disease-based assistance (programs based on the diagnosis), programs to help people apply for patient assistance programs, including 1,000 state/local government assistance progs, and 3,000 free clinics. 

     We keep all the data current, reviewing every program at least every six months. 

Advice for patient advocates:  Bookmark this site.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but sometimes there are free meds.

See a story on the cost of medication, or see Dr. Sagall's blog.

Thanks to Dr. Richard Sagall of NeedyMeds for the interview.

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