We can ill afford to scrimp as folks go without prescriptions

September 27, 1994|By ELISE T. CHISOLM

She is dressed in a nice suit, her general appearance is of well-being. But then I heard her tell a friend, "I can't afford to take that medicine, my Tagamet . . . if it comes to money or food, food comes first . . . my company did not give us a prescription drug plan."

Her friend is about the same age, and says, "Well, I just make my 30-day kidney medicine stretch over 45 days, that is the best I can do."

I was interested in them. They were in a doctor's waiting room. They both looked middle class and comfortable. But I found out by gentle questioning they aren't that comfortable if they can't afford life-saving medication. One had stopped her anti-depressant because it was $2 a pill, the other women has slowed down on her zofran, an anti-nausea drug, because it is $17.95 a pill. Their clothes reflect care but their faces reflect worry and anxiety.

Are there many seniors who aren't taking their daily medicine because they can't pay? Yes.

It seems if you are very, very poor you can get medical assistance if you know how. If you are very, very rich you can afford your pills. But some middle classers fall between the cracks. For some, their incomes are too high for medical or pharmacy assistance.

A friend of mine who is in her eighties recently explained it to me. "You know, I forget to take my pills some mornings but maybe it's just as well. I can't afford them and my rent, too."

We all know that people are living longer and therefore that health care has to be a priority.

In Maryland, we are lucky. The Maryland Department of Aging is trying to help.

Jan Martin, chief of the Community Services Division of the Maryland State Department of Aging, says, "We have just had a series of meetings with the elderly throughout the state to discuss the high cost of prescription drugs. We want to know what the problems are, even though our Medication Management Program has been in place since 1990."

David Miller, executive director of the Maryland Pharmacists, says that for the very poor there is hope to get generic substitutes for the expensive drugs like the ulcer drug Tagamet through the Pharmacy Assistance Program, which helps pay for prescription drugs.

"For instance, there is a new antibiotic that is $5 a pill. We can help patients who have medical coverage but don't have any insurance for that prescription. Of course, we have financial screening tests for these patients."

The pharmacist thinks that a lot of Marylanders don't realize if you have trouble paying you can also talk to your pharmacist and work out a plan.

David Miller also cautions that there are those patients who don't want to admit they can't pay.

Both professionals stress that patients must take their pills regularly; they recommend the daily pill dispensers, and carrying information about medication with you at all times.

Whatever health plan the American government and the voters come up with, we should take the politics out and get on with giving help to those who can't afford it.

We can spread the blame to the insurance companies, the drug companies, the hospitals or the doctors for the high costs of health care. But we can mostly blame all of us who let the middle-class workers fall between the cracks with no net to catch them, just a Band-Aid for now. Every American deserves to lead a healthy and long life.

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