If you follow health news, chances are you are aware of the stunning increase in pharmaceutical costs. According to some experts, prescription drug costs have risen more than 40% over the last decade. DC is not immune to inflated drug prices, but the city does try to provide relief for some of its most vulnerable citizens. One prescription assistance program is being ushered into a local healthcare system with the hope of bringing down the costs (and anxiety) associated with medications.
Providence Health System (formerly Hospital) is now offering eligible patients access to free medications through the Dispensary of Hope program. Dispensary of Hope distributes donated medications to pharmacies that serve patients who are uninsured, low-income and chronically ill. Dispensary of Hope will operate in the Wellington Apothecary, located through the main entrance of the Providence campus in Northeast.
Dr. Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee, president and CEO of Providence Health System and chief community impact officer for Ascension Health, explained via press release that this dispensary is intended to defuse the stress surrounding medication costs. “A person’s lack of access to affordable medication is stressful and can lead to worsening health, as well as avoidable hospital readmissions and emergency room use. Our Community Charity Pharmacy stocked by Dispensary of Hope will play an integral part in making a positive impact for DC residents by improving access to prescription medications they may rely on each day and is another part of our transformation of Providence to better meet the needs of the community.”
Dispensary of Hope is a “charitable medication distributor” based in Nashville, Tennessee. The 12-year-old organization receives donations from pharmaceutical partners in the form of branded sample medications. The medications are then redistributed nationwide through a network of charitable pharmacies, safety-net clinics and outpatient pharmacies. The goal is to provide a stopgap measure for underinsured and uninsured people who need life-saving medications but lack the coverage. Ascension Health, Providence Health System’s operator, announced the program in early April.
Christopher Palombo, CEO of Dispensary of Hope, stated that the partnerships with Ascension and manufacturers keep the costs of the program completely covered. “This charity pharmacy dispensing location is made possible through the generosity of Ascension and by the continued and massive generosity of the generic pharmaceutical manufacturers, who provide all Dispensary of Hope medication 100% free to serve the national community.”
Surprisingly, this kind of program hasn’t caught on in most states. As of 2018, 38 states had enacted laws for prescription medication donation and reuse, but nearly half of those programs are not operational for various reasons including lack of awareness or lack of funding. A few states are finding success in medication redistribution. Georgia’s Good Pill Program has seen participation flourish in less than a year, with more than 1,000 patients enrolled.
This isn’t the first time a prescription drug donation program has been considered in the District. Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd (D) introduced legislation that would establish a pilot program within the Department of Health for the donation and redistribution of certain unused prescription medications to low-income residents. The Prescription Drug Donation Pilot Program Act of 2017 would have allowed any person, prescription drug manufacturer, pharmacy, healthcare provider or healthcare facility to donate medications. The Department of Health would be responsible for establishing guidelines for donation and distribution, maintaining an electronic database of all the names and quantity of the donated drugs, and establishing a procedure for the storage, inspection and safe dispensing of pharmaceutical products. After concerns were raised about the burden on local pharmacies and cost to run the program, the bill died in chambers.
Other programs in DC assist residents with getting a discount on prescription medication. The DC RX Card program offers discounts on brand name and generic medications. The savings average around 30%, with some discounts going as high as 75%.
DC AIDS Drug Assistance Program, also known as ADAP, is available through the Department of Health. The program pays for a client’s insurance premium and all co-payments and deductibles associated with drugs in the ADAP formulary. Other assistance programs include DC Healthy Families, DC Healthcare Alliance and Partnership for Prescription Assistance.
Ascension Health is working toward changing the face of healthcare in Ward 5 by closing the embattled Providence Hospital as we know it and transforming the property into a health village. This contemporary vision incorporates traditional primary, urgent and specialty healthcare along with structures that support prevention such as walking trails and recreation space.
If you would like more information about the free medication program, visit Providence’s website, http://www.provhosp.org/, or call 202-854-7000.
Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News.