How to Save Money With Prescription Assistance Programs

You’ve probably heard or seen ads or commercials that patients can get their prescription medicines for free or at a low cost. TV personality Montel Williams talks about an organization that helps patients find assistance when they can’t afford the drugs they are prescribed. There is even an orange bus that crosses the country to promote free prescription drug programs.

A man using his tablet at the dining room table

Hero Images / Getty Images

It's easy to be skeptical. After all, so much of what we know about American health care is driven by a profit motive. But it turns out that there really are good programs to help many people get their prescription drugs at a reduced cost or even free.

Prescription assistance programs (PAPs) are available across the country. They work by subsidizing the cost of prescription drugs through government or not-for-profit advocacy programs, or as public relations tools representing for-profit pharmaceutical companies.

Regardless of the source of subsidy funding, patients can benefit. Whether or not you think you are eligible for assistance, it’s worth looking into the possibilities.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPARx)

The program Montel Williams talks about is the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, now called the Medicine Assistance Tool. It is a search engine which contains information on about 900 public and private assistance programs that help those with financial need.

Patient Assistance

Patient Assistance is a non-profit organization that goes beyond helping you find potential resources. It helps you manage your applications, too. It features one of the largest databases of companies and non-profits — all-in-one, one-stop shopping for potential sources that will help you obtain the drugs you need. Additional information about discount prescription cards is available. Patients with diabetes will find additional resources.

There is no cost to patients to use the Patient Assistance database at its website.

RxAssist Patient Assistance Program Center

An advocacy group called Volunteers in Health Care promotes free and low-cost drug programs offered by pharmaceutical manufacturers. Originally begun to help doctors and other providers obtain these drugs on behalf of their patients, the website was expanded in 2006 to allow patients to search for possible resources themselves.

The qualification process at RxAssist is similar to that of PPARx. Once you have provided some basic family size and income information, plus the drugs you need help paying for, you will be told whether that drug company participates with RxAssist and whether that particular drug is available for free or at a lower cost.

Qualification for the programs offered by prescription drug companies is based on a formula that determines whether the family size and income are within federal poverty guidelines. The website provides the information patients need to figure out whether they fall within those guidelines.

Needy Meds

NeedyMeds provides access not just to low-cost and free prescription drugs, but other types of programs that help patients get the medical assistance they need, too. Included are links to programs that will help patients with certain diseases, smoking cessation, generic drugs purchases at large pharmacies and drug stores, finding discount drug cards, "green" ways to dispose of medicines and devices, programs for Medicare enrollees, even tips for saving money on drug purchases.

Applications for assistance are not made through the NeedyMeds website and are not made online. However, applications for most of the programs are available in PDF form. Patients are encouraged to download them and are given instructions for where to send them.

Among the various PAPs available online, NeedyMeds provides resources to the most people since not all of its programs require low income to access.

Donations to this not-for-profit organization are also accepted on the site.

Other Prescription Assistance Programs Available Through the Web

If you are taking a prescription medication and have trouble finding it on the lists of the PAPs listed above, consider contacting the company that manufactures the drug. If you aren't sure who manufactures it, you can look at the FDA website. 

Or, simply locate the website for the manufacturer and contact them to see if they know of prescription assistance resources for that particular drug. Another option is to ask your prescribing doctor's office if they know of a discount program for that particular drug.

Additional programs are readily available online with a caveat. Many of these programs offer access to free or low-cost drugs, but you pay for the service to qualify you. In some cases, it's a monthly fee and you'll be asked to pay a year's worth of fees, at a minimum. Other sites charge you a copay for the drugs. Others are simply scams.

Discount Drug Cards

Don't forget, also, that almost anyone is eligible for a drug discount card.

Never fill out a form at one of these sites without double-checking the company first. You don't want to risk having your money or your identity stolen. Just because they look bona fide doesn't mean they are.

If you find the name of a company that offers free or low-cost drugs, and you want to verify its credibility, then do another search using the name of the company and the word "scam" or "rip-off" to see if others have reported problems. You might even check with the Better Business Bureau.

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.