CADILLAC — The Stehouwer Free Clinic’s Drug Access Program is working to provide its patients with free medication as the price of prescription drugs continues to climb.
The program has been around for about 19 years and works in partnership with Munson Healthcare. Those who receive their primary care through the Munson system can take advantage of the program.
In the past year alone, Access to Medicines Program Director Karen Zenner said she has seen the need for the program increase dramatically. In 2021, pharmaceutical companies provided the clinic and its 332 Access to Medicines Program users with $2.9 million worth of prescription drugs. So far this year, Zenner said the companies have already supplied $2 million worth of prescription drugs.
“It surprised me,” she said. “I mean, there are four months left of the year, and you’re about to hit that total.”
Hundreds of drugs have seen their prices go up, but some have gone up more than others, like insulin. Zenner said a four-month supply of Trulicity, a drug prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes, costs about $4,053 in 2021. This year, the price has risen to $4,255.
“When you look at someone who has to buy (Trulicity) every month, it comes down to about $1,064, which is really unaffordable for people on Social Security,” she said. “So when they have to pay, with the cost of everything going up, groceries, gas, utilities, medicine, it’s very difficult.”
The diabetes drug Januvia has also seen its price increase. Two years ago, Januvia cost around $19 per pill, but Zenner said it has since gone up to $21 per pill. While the number varies by company, ultimately she said patients are still faced with a payment they cannot cover, especially those in old age who need multiple medications.
“Most people don’t take a single drug, do they? On average there are probably five drugs that people take,” Zenner said. “So it adds up, and when you have to spend, what they don’t do is a lot of money to spend on a drug.”
Zenner estimates that about 94% of patients who applied for the Medicines Access Program are eligible for Medicare, and most of them have prescription coverage, but still cannot afford to pay. She said many of those people are also on Social Security, and without the program, drug costs wouldn’t fit into their budget.
The clinic works with about 23 different pharmaceutical companies, Zenner said, and as long as a patient meets their income threshold, which can vary by company, they are eligible for coverage.
Once a person is enrolled in the Medicines Access Program, the clinic becomes a bridge between provider and patient. If a patient is denied, the clinic will follow up to find out why they were denied and what they can do to get their coverage.
Some companies provide drugs to those with commercial insurance through an employer or marketplace, but first they must prove that the drug they are looking for is not available under their insurance coverage. ‘arrangement. Zenner said Stehouwer is one of the few free clinics to have opened its drug access program to the public.
“Others used to keep it strictly for inpatients, just the patients they saw,” she said. “But that wasn’t the vision they had at (Munson); they wanted it to be open to the community.
In Zenner’s 18 years working in the Medicines Access Program, she has seen the physical and financial strain that a lack of access to prescriptions can place on patients. To this day, she still sees people registering who have not once purchased the drugs they need. Others will abuse drugs to make their doses last longer and avoid paying more.
“We’ve heard people say, ‘Well, I’m going to take the insulin every other day,’ or they’ll take a few units less, or they won’t use their inhaler,” she said. “They don’t use their drugs like they’re supposed to, or they used to until they came here, because they couldn’t afford it.
When people finally get the drugs they need, Zenner says they often get emotional because, for the first time in their lives, they can live comfortably. Since early January, Zenner said 63 new people have joined the program and she expects more for the rest of the year.
Zenner often hears people say that there are others worse off than them. But she said the criteria are there for a reason, and if someone fits the program, she encourages them to apply.