ANNAPOLIS – Louise Cross, 85, of Baltimore, has arthritis and spends nearly $300 a month for her prescription drugs. Since she discovered Medbank, her cost has dropped to $15.
“I wouldn’t be able to do without it,” said Cross.
Now, getting those medications will be even easier.
Medbank of Maryland Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping low-income and uninsured patients receive free prescription drugs, has opened a mail-order pharmacy and is scheduled to send out its first prescriptions this week.
“It’s been a lifesaver and I will sing their praises in the streets if they asked me,” said Carol Hooper, Cross’ daughter.
The program covers individuals whose incomes range up to 200 percent of the poverty level, helping those whose incomes are too low to afford medication for chronic problems, but too high to qualify for federal assistance.
Pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and Ortho-McNeil, have agreed to supply the organization with bulk medicine, allowing Medbank to distribute prescriptions directly to the patient.
Typically, the distribution process can take up to two months. Medbank applies through a patient assistance program to the drug company, which then contacts the patient’s doctor. After the application’s approval, the drug maker sends the medicine to the doctor, where it may be picked up.
“Now the process will be less labor intensive, and will reduce the amount of paperwork,” said Donna Grady, marketing director for Medbank of Maryland, Inc.
The new pharmacy will allow Medbank to simply verify that the person qualifies for assistance and ship out the products, she said.
“It depends on how quickly we get the information from the patient, but we can turn around their application in a couple of days,” said Grady.
Medbank will still use the old process for some of its drugs, but their hopes are to get more pharmaceutical companies to sign onto the mail-order program, she said. The Maryland General Assembly passed the Senior Prescription Drug Relief Act in 2001 that earmarked $2.5 million for Medbank.
Medbank serves mostly seniors, but the program is open to anyone who meets the income specifications, which vary by drug company. Medbank serves more than 14,000 patients. The mail-order pharmacy is expected to serve 5,000 of those patients.
“There are a lot of people that have benefited from the program, and it’s working,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. James E. DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel. “There was a group of people falling through the cracks and I thought it would be helpful to be a part of that.”
Maryland’s Medbank, which has been operating for over 2 years, was modeled after a Georgia program.
“We have far exceeded the size they are,” Grady said.
The pharmacy idea came from the South Carolina company, Communicare.
Medbank generally serves patients with long-term illnesses because of the length of time it takes to receive prescriptions.
Medbank decided to go ahead with the pharmacy idea without securing all the funds that it needed to operate.
“We are still hearing back from organizations we have applied to for funding,” said Grady.
The program has received a $250,000 grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and a $30,000 grant from The Horizon Foundation.
Johns Hopkins Pharmaquip provided the space for the pharmacy. “It was a good deed for us to do,” said Deeley Middleton, senior director of John Hopkins Pharmaquip, “and we were happy to do it.” – 30 – CNS-10-2-02