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How To Get Free Or Discounted Prescription Drugs During The Coronavirus Crisis
Pharmacies across the U.S. are stepping up to help consumers find affordable medications.
Even before Dustin Quinn, 33, became one of the 30 million Americans to lose their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, she was just getting by. Working 24 hours a week for $12.25 per hour at the front desk of a hotel in Fargo, N.D., she made enough, barely, to cover expenses.
So being laid off quickly triggered her own financial crisis. First, Quinn's car was repossessed when she could no longer make car loan payments. Next, she was threatened with eviction from her apartment.
Another worry: How would she pay for her two anti-anxiety prescriptions?
At $60 for a three-month supply, it was sometimes a challenge to cover them even before she lost her part-time job. And now, with no income, no car, and possibly no place to live, she had no idea how she would be able to pay for her needed medication. And the prospect of being without them seemed frightening.
"Not having that secure paycheck every two weeks was tough," Quinn says. "I was worried."
Thankfully, for people in Quinn's situation help is available.
For example, some small independent pharmacies are stepping up to help people in their communities get medication during the ongoing emergency. "Our first and only responsibility is to take care of our customers and our community," says Tom DePietro, Pharm.D., owner of DiPietro's Pharmacy in Dunmore, Pa., who started offering free prescriptions to the unemployed in March. "It's worth it."
Other pharmacies, including some large ones, such as certain CVS and Walgreens stores, are highlighting long-standing but not well-known programs that allow them to register with federal or state health clinics to provide prescriptions free or at sharply reduced prices.
Several hundred nonprofit pharmacies located across the country, often run by charities such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, say they have seen a spike in the people seeking their help, which can include providing free prescriptions to people in need.
There are other ways to get help with your drugs, too, including registering for programs offered by drugmakers and signing up for Medicaid.
That's what ultimately helped Quinn. Her state, North Dakota, was one of 36 that, since the last recession in 2007 to 2009, has made it easier for people to sign up for Medicaid. Her application was quickly processed and approved, she says. And her next prescriptions will cost her only $2 each.
Here's more about the ways you can get free or low-cost drugs during the ongoing crisis.
Talk With Your Local Pharmacist
DiPietro remembers the exact moment he decided to offer unemployed people in his community free prescriptions. He was standing outside his house, watching his daughter drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, thinking how lucky he was—and how worried he was about people who had lost their jobs.
Soon after, he announced a new program: Show proof of unemployment and he will give local patients a 90-day supply of any generic drug they need. "I'm taking a loss on every prescription," DePietro says.
"No one is paying me for this." He estimates it will cost him upward of $10,000. But, he says, "It's worth it."
News of his response to the crisis spread to Pittsburgh, prompting another store, Asti's Pharmacy, to offer a similar program for its local customers. Provide proof you lost your job, and co-owner Chris Antypas, Pharm.D., will give you a 90-day supply of most generic drugs free of charge.
Even though the pharmacy has promoted its new program, "most patients still may not be aware we offer it," Antypas says.
So if you're struggling financially to get the drugs you need, he recommends asking your local independent pharmacist if they can help out. "Ask if they have any specific savings programs that could help you," he says, "otherwise they might not be aware you're facing a hardship."
Even if you haven't lost your job, "pharmacists are experts at finding low-cost, affordable options for patients," Antypas says.
There is more information there if you need it.