Free medicine: Too good to be true?

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PHOENIX - At age 73, Anne Houck is in good health. Seven years ago she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer but she fought that battle and won.  The only thing she’s battling these days is breathing problems from her many years of smoking. 

Anne has two inhalers that cost a combined $167 a month.  Because she doesn’t have prescription drug coverage through Medicare, that money comes out of her social security check.  And Anne said at this point it is just too much for her to afford.  

After hearing something about it on TV, Anne decided to check out the Bureau of Prescription Help.  On their web site www.freemedicine.com it says, "If you can't afford to pay for your prescriptions: you can enroll into special free medicine programs." If approved, you can reportedly gain access to over 54,000 medications.

According to their brochure, you send a one time $10 processing fee for each medication requested payable by cash, money order or check.  But Anne Houck says when she called, the guy asked her for her social security number and credit card information. 

Also, according to Anne, he said it would cost a $50 up front fee and $20 for each medication. 

“He was just downright sarcastic when I would not give him the information, “ she tells 3 On Your Side, “So I thought, lets talk to someone who can dig deeper than I can.”

Anne called 3 On Your Side to see what we might be able to find out about this program. 

According to the Better Business Bureau, The Missouri based Bureau of Prescription Help has a BBB Rating of F on a scale from A+ to F.
Reasons for this rating include:
•    70 complaints filed against business
•    Failure to respond to 27 complaints filed against business.
•    9 complaints filed against business that were not resolved.
•    BBB does not have sufficient background information on this business

But Bureau of Prescription help General Manager Cindy Haynes says this is a small number of complaints "out of the thousands and thousands of patients that are happy."

In an email, Haynes tells 3 On Your Side, "If folks are at all reasonable, we can almost 100% of the time, make them happy and provide them the services promised and beyond."

Haynes explains that they are a nationwide prescription assistance program, a private organization, set up to “facilitate utilization of drug makers sponsored patient assistance programs and other prescription assistance resources for people who believe they may qualify to participate.”  Haynes tells us they are privately funded, not sponsored by drug companies.

When we asked about Anne Houck, who says she was asked to pay more than the advertised amount and to give her social security number and credit card information, Haynes said Ms. Houck may have gotten this program mixed up with another one and that the Bureau of Prescription Help never asks for social security or credit card numbers.  And she assures 3 On Your Side that all prescriptions –once approved—are $10 (that is a non-refundable processing fee).

After 3 On Your Side reached out to Bureau of Prescription Help and Cindy Haynes, they offered to get Anne Houck the inhalers she needs for free saying quote, "We will be happy to waive the fee so as to help you and others learn about the process."  

3 On Your Side will follow Anne’s story to see if this program works for her. 

Below is more information from Bureau of Prescription Help and for further details visit www.freemedicine.com :

They are a Nationwide Patient Advocate Group helping people get their medicine for free or low-cost.
 
Bureau of Prescription Help’s staff and volunteers facilitate access to programs that have been available for the last 50 years helping people to save or eliminate their prescription medicine costs. And it's not just poor people who qualify for assistance. With each medication, the income criteria varies from below the poverty level up to $88,200 for a family of four.
 
They have hundreds of medicine plans available in their prescription network. Once you apply they go to work for you to match you to free or low-cost plans for each of your medicines. First they help you apply for free medicine:  
The Primary eligibility requirements to get free medicine are:
1.) you are Uninsured or under-insured, or have maxed out your prescription coverage,
2.) and don’t qualify for public assistance such as Medicaid.
3.) With each medication, the income criteria varies from below the poverty level up to $88,200 for a family of four.

With each medication, the income criteria varies from below the poverty level up to $43,320 for individuals, $58,280 for couples, and as high as $88,200 for a family of four.

Keep in mind, these programs are not just for poor people. The key is, if you find it a hardship to buy your medicines and are uninsured or have maxed out your coverage, apply.
 
Another really good totally and completely free option they offer their clients --- visit freemedicine.com and click on the top free prescription discount cards picture. For the free discount card: Tip: If you find a pharmacy in a zip code that is cheaper than where you live, you may be able to have that pharmacy mail the medications to you. You may be able to fax a prescription or have your doctor call in the script to them to save even more $$$. Shop, Shop, Shop to save money. It's easier to shop all over the USA. Be sure to download the prescription savings card to get these savings. If you find that a medicine you take is not saving as much as you think it should, you might need apply to try to get all or some of your meds for free. There is a one-time cost of $10.00 per drug applied for but that is all you will ever pay. (for a processing and handling service fee)  They have lot’s of other resources to offer to our clients like doctor visits thru free or low cost clinics, they help them find them. Help with durable medical goods, etc.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR FREE AND LOW COST HELP:

Many pharmaceutical companies voluntarily offer their medications at little or no cost to low-income individuals through plans known as prescription-assistance programs or PAPs. Unfortunately, many Americans are unaware that these PAPs may be available to address their needs.

To apply for assistance from these programs, consumers must submit an application directly to the pharmaceutical manufacturer. The manufacturer then determines whether the consumer is eligible to participate in its program.

The following links offer information about the manufacturers that currently provide prescription-assistance programs:
www.helpingpatients.org
www.RxHope.com
www.needymeds.com
www.rxassist.org
http://www.pparx.org/

TIPS FROM THE FBI ON HOW TO AVOID PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION SCAMS:

http://www.fbi.gov/majcases/fraud/seniorsfam.htm

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

Some Tips to Avoiding Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

Be mindful of appearance. Closely examine the packaging and lot numbers of prescription drugs and be alert of any changes from one prescription to the next.

Consult your pharmacist or physician if your prescription drug looks suspicious. Alert your pharmacist and physician immediately if your medication causes adverse side effects or if your condition does not improve. Use caution when purchasing drugs on the Internet.

Do not purchase medications from unlicensed online distributors or those who sell medications without a prescription. Reputable online pharmacies will have a seal of approval called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS), provided by the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States.

Product promotions or cost reductions and other "special deals" may be associated with counterfeit product promotion.