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Growth of Free RX Program Underscores Barriers to Care that Low-Income Mainers Continue to Face Despite Obamacare Gains

Growth of Free RX Program Underscores Barriers to Care that Low-Income Mainers Continue to Face Despite Obamacare Gains

Knowing that over 44,000 Mainers signed up for more affordable health plans through the new Obamacare Health Insurance Marketplace is great news. Hopefully, more Mainers now have the security of having a comprehensive plan that includes prescription drug coverage for needed medications.

However, without the expansion of Medicaid to low-income Mainers, many of our neighbors and friends continue to be unable to get care or afford medications that are vital to treatment and recovery.

Ensuring people have access to affordable medications has been a long-standing issue in Maine, particularly for people with low incomes who often have to choose between purchasing food versus medicine. In 2006, the Maine Health Access Foundation launched a multi-year initiative designed to help patients access free or reduced-priced medications. Over three years, organizations developed pharmacy assistance programs for their lower-income patients that are still in operation today.

We recently received an update from Connie Coggins, President and CEO of HealthReach Community Health Centers, about the growth of their proactive patient pharmacy assistance program. HealthReach’s multiple clinical sites use DataNet, a program supported by MaineHealth, which helps manage pharmacy benefit applications and calculates the value of the prescription support provided to patients. 

Over seven years, the clinical sites have had significant growth in the need for access to prescription assistance. In 2007, DataNet recorded $217,580 of free medications that were ordered for patients. The chart below illlustrates the significant increase in need through 2013:

[insert chart]

2008-----------------------$400,254
2009-----------------------$616,088
2010-----------------------$759,308
2011-----------------------$990,417
2012---------------------$1,195,850
2013---------------------$2,108,792

While it’s gratifying to know the HealthReach staff have been successful in sustaining and expanding a valuable safety net service to allow uninsured, low-income Mainers access to affordable medications, this ten-fold increase shows that many Mainers continue grappling with financial barriers to accessing the care they need.

Getting people better coverage through private insurance on the Marketplace is a big step in the right direction, but none of our fellow Mainers should have to choose between food and medicine.

We applaud HealthReach for their incredible work, but wouldn’t it be better to celebrate the gradual winding down and closure of these programs because Mainers really didn’t need them anymore?

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