The Partnership for Safe Medicines is made up of a diverse collection of nonprofits who unite under the common cause of wanting to protect American patients from counterfeit medicines. However, all of our partners have their own primary missions, and PSM wanted to take the time to speak with some of them about their excellent works. Recently, we spoke with Dr. Rich Sagall, President and founder of NeedyMeds, a national nonprofit organization that helps people who can not afford medications and healthcare costs.
What inspired you to create NeedyMeds?
In 1997, I had a family medicine practice in Bangor, ME. A social worker friend told me about the pharmaceutical patient assistance programs (PAPs) – programs I hadn’t known about. About the same time, I had just taught myself how to design and code websites. We thought it important to make this information available to everyone so we decided to put it on the web. NeedyMeds was born.
What kinds of programs can people find out about on your website?
At first, we only had information on the PAPs. We had people contact us who said their medicine was available through a PAP and they qualified for the program, but they couldn’t afford to see a doctor to obtain a prescription. They then asked if I, being a physician, would write them a prescription. I told them I couldn’t because doing so would be bad medicine, unethical and illegal. That lead to us adding a compilation of free/low cost/sliding scale clinics. We now list over 18,000.
Our PAP database contains information on around 375 programs. We also have data on around 2,000 coupons, copay programs and rebates; over 3,000 programs that provide assistance based on the person’s diagnosis; over 2,000 camps, retreats and scholarships based on diagnosis; 1,150 state and county programs; 1,800 programs that help people find and apply to programs; and more.
Probably the program most people are aware of is the NeedyMeds drug discount card. How many patients has this program helped since it first began?
Every month our drug discount card program helps people save on over 30,000 prescriptions. Since we began the program, we have saved users over $275 million on prescription medications.
How is NeedyMeds’ drug discount card different from others available to patients?
Our drug discount card differs from others in four critical ways:
- We gather no user-identifiable information. Many other drug discount card programs learn demographic information on each time their card is used. We gather none. That means the users’ information isn’t used for marketing purposes.
- We have no registration, sign-up or enrollment process. And there is no fee to get a card or use it. People can download a paper card from our website and use it immediately.
- Any income from the card goes to help NeedyMeds meets its mission and not into an investor’s pocket.
- We offer a complete program of options (as listed above) and prefer people find the best option for them even if it isn’t using our card.
How current are the listings on NeedyMeds’ website?
Our team of 10 researchers works to keep the information current and complete. They are always searching for new programs. We consider NeedyMeds a cooperative effort because many of our users let us know about programs we don’t have on the website. Our website is visited by 10,000-15,000 users on workdays. Our call center (1-800-503-6897) of seven counselors handles 4,000-6,000 contacts per month. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will respond as quickly as possible.
A program currently in the works in the “NeedyMeds for Pets” program. Could you tell us about that program?
We hope to have this program up and running soon. We all know how important pets are to many people. They become an important part of their families. Unfortunately, many people can’t afford the care of their pet’s needs. We hope this website will help. It will contain information on many programs that offer services and products that are at a reduced or no-cost basis. The only holdup is funding. Hiring people to do the research, design and program the database, and design and code the website is expensive. We are looking for support to get it going.
There is another program that NeedyMeds has started: Passing On Planning. Please tell us about that program.
This website is in the design phase, and we hope to have it live in three to four months. As the name implies, it’s designed for people dealing with the issues that arise around death and dying. The program is for two audiences – those planning for their own death (which may be many years away) and for those who have lost a loved and have to wrap up their affairs.
Our goal is to discuss everything people need to think about when dealing with these issues. Some are fairly obvious – wills, power of attorney, health care proxy, etc, But we are also covering things many might not think of. For example, what should happen to the person’s social media accounts? Without planning, those left may not be able to close these accounts or even know about them. I keep getting Facebook messages from someone who died two years ago. This could be very upsetting for some people. Another decision is should the message on their voicemail be changed if it’s the deceased voice? Personally, I find it a little disconcerting to hear the greeting from a friend long gone.
We have other programs in mind. We just need the funding to get them going.
NeedyMeds has been in operation for over 20 years. In that time, have you seen the need for the information and services you provide grow?
Yes. There are more people unable to afford the healthcare and medications they need, and there has been an increase in programs that help. The issue is helping those in need to find the programs that may help them. There are so many programs that help and the number is increasing all the time.
Our three biggest obstacles we work on overcoming are:
- Letting people know we exist.
- That we are real. Rightly so, people should be skeptical of something that seems too good to be true.
- That visitors should do more than look into one dataset. Too many people look up PAP info and skip the rest of the data
We semi-jokingly say our ultimate goal is to go out-of-business for lack of need, but I don’t see this happening anytime soon. Everyone should be able to obtain the healthcare they need without concern for the financial impact.
If you are struggling to afford the medications you need or if you would like to make a donation so that NeedyMeds can continue helping more Americans, please visit their website: http://www.needymeds.org. There is no charge for using our data. Donations can be made online, via PayPal, over the phone, or you can mail in a check. A one-time $30 donation pays for 50 individuals to receive a prescription drug discount card in the mail, and a $50 donation allows counselors at the call center to answer seven calls.