Health & Medicine

State to supply every county with prescription access help

Gov. Steve Beshear announced a community-based program Friday to help seniors and low-income families connect with pharmaceutical companies' free or reduced-price drug programs.

Beshear, during a press conference, said that about $1 million over the next two years will be used to establish a person or office in every county with a computer program that will connect people with the drug companies' programs.

Many drug companies offer such programs but they're difficult to find and apply for.

Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a doctor, said Friday that some doctor's offices have a nurse whose only job is to find the online applications and help patients apply.

To apply for the pharmaceutical programs, you have to know the name of the manufacturer of a drug and then find the application. It can be a mind-numbing process, especially for non-tech-savvy senior citizens.

"There are over 138 different manufacturers," Mongiardo said of the pharmaceutical company programs.

Under the program — called the Kentucky Prescription Assistance Program — each county will have a designated office — probably in a social service organization, local health department or other agency — where a trained employee will help seniors or low-income families apply.

Approximately half of the $1 million price tag will go for software and computer equipment that connects all the drug companies' applications, said Dr. Steve Davis, senior deputy health commissioner. The money will also pay two full-time staff to train the participating agencies about the program. The staff will also provide outreach to doctors and clinics to explain the program.

The state's goal is to have 90 counties online by March, said Janie Miller, Secretary for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

It's unclear how many people need help paying for prescription drugs. But recent studies show that it is a top concern. And that's especially true in Kentucky. A 2002 study by Boston University showed that Kentucky placed third among states in "drug cost burden" — the percentage of income that people spend on prescription medicine.

Currently, the state has about 30,000 people on a different prescription drug benefit program. "That's, quite frankly, just scratching the surface," Davis said of the number of people who might need the prescription drug assistance.

There are pilot programs in Paducah and Elizabethtown that have proven successful, Davis said.