Gaston & Catawba

Firm helps low-income folks get free medicine

In tough economic times, some people find themselves choosing between buying prescription medicines or paying bills.

But thanks to a little-known service, help is available to avoid that hard choice.

Phil Martin, owner of United Care Services in Hickory, helps qualified individuals get free prescription drugs for long-term conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and more.

His business – which does charge a monthly fee for its service – helps people without prescription drug insurance navigate the “patient-in-need” programs provided by many drug companies.

Those eligible must meet certain income limits, have a valid Social Security number and not have any prescription drug coverage.

A patient's physician must also agree to participate in the program. Narcotics or medications for acute conditions – such as antibiotics – are not included.

“We help people that don't have insurance for prescriptions get free medication from drug companies,” Martin said. “There are also a lot of families, working families, that either don't have prescription drug coverage or have no coverage at all. These are the folks we're trying to reach.”

Also, Martin said, “There are no age limits on this service, so it's useful for people who work in places like fast-food restaurants, grocery stores and the like and (who) don't have prescription-drug coverage. They can qualify to get medications.”

Martin also works with the elderly who don't qualify for help with Medicare Part D, and in some cases for those who have the “doughnut hole” in their Medicare coverage.

As part of his service, Martin gathers information from the patient, verifies income through tax returns or benefit statements, and checks to see which medications are available from companies to meet the patient's needs. He takes care of the paperwork needed by drug companies and the prescribing physician.

Most doctors want to help patients in need, but many don't have the time or resources to administer these programs, according to Martin.

“Doctors also need to be asked first, as a courtesy to them, to see if it's OK for us to send these forms to them,” Martin said. “But most of the doctors in the area know of our service, and a lot of them refer patients to us.

Catawba County Social Services also refers patients to his company, he said.

When the application is approved, the patient receives a three-month supply at a time, either sent to a home or to the doctor's office in the patient's name. For this service, Martin's company charges $35 a month.

Each drug company has different requirements for their free medications, including different levels of income, according to Martin. For most, household income cannot exceed $26,000 a year, with higher incomes allowed if more dependents are in the household.

Also, Martin said, “We have to stay up-to-date on their requirements and pass the changes along to patients and their physicians.”

Martin said he first got the idea for his company a few years ago from a physician friend. She knew he had taken care of his mother's prescription medications through a patient-in-need program, and the doctor suggested Martin might use his knowledge to help others.

“Anyone can do this,” Martin said. “But we provide this service for those who don't have the ability or the time to handle all these forms and keep in contact with the physicians and drug companies.

“The patient can decide if (our) help with the available medications is worth our nominal service fee.”