Friday, November 21, 2008

The “Help is Here Express” Offers Help While Raising Awareness on Chronic Ills

By Larry Favinger Staff Columnist
The “Help is Here Express” bus was in Maine last week.
The tour, whose national spokesman is television star Montel Williams, is part of a nationwide effort sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies to help financially-struggling Americans access information on various programs that provide prescription medicines for free or nearly free while at the same time raising awareness of patient assistance programs.
The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) also seeks to “raise the awareness of chronic diseases in the United States,” Jeff Gilbert, director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said sitting in the conference room at The Weekly Sentinel. He said there is “a very big rate” of chronic illnesses in Maine.
Jerry Mathers of “Leave it to Beaver” Fame, who suffers from diabetes, was with the crew on the bus for part of the journey through Maine with stops in Fort Kent, Presque Isle, Bangor, Houlton, Lewiston, Rumford and Bridgeton.
Gilbert said the program, signified by the bus that is stocked with phones and laptop computers, has worked with thousands of people “getting their prescriptions” for free or at reduced rates directly from the pharmaceutical companies.
“Many of these programs have been around for years,” Gilbert said, but have gone unpublicized. The program as it now stands help people cut through the process to make it easy for them. “It is easy and fast,” he said.
In fact, he added, since the program began in 2005, the two buses have helped an estimated 5.3 million people, including more 21,000 Mainers.
Since its inception in April 2005, the PPA bus tour has visited over 2,000 cities and towns in all 50 states. Upon leaving The Sentinel, the bus was going to Rhode Island for its next stop.
Specially trained staff members provide help in many ways ways, Gilbert said. People can visit the bus and receive first hand help in making application by laptop computer and learn quickly what programs they may be qualified for.
If they qualify, the forms needed to send to the company are printed right there for them to take home, attach the necessary prescriptions and send to the company. The medicine can be obtained in a matter of days.
There is no age limits in the program. “Everyone can apply,” Gilbert said. About 70 percent of program applicants are under the age of 65. Many applicants are covered by Medicare Part D but, Gilbert said, “We’re still able to help some people over the age of 65.
Income levels are based on 200 percent of the federal government poverty level.
Gilbert said if a single person is making $19,500, without prescription medication insurance, “there’s a very good chance you’ll qualify for” some of the programs. A family of four with an income level somewhere in the $38,000 to $39,500 would qualify.
There are more than 475 patient assistance programs, including nearly 200 offered by pharmaceutical companies, Gilbert said.
The two buses involved with the program have traveled an estimated quarter of a million miles including more then 850 in Maine. They have visited the state four times.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that many of these programs, if not all of them, have been around for 50 years,” Gilbert said.
The effort to make more people aware came “because we wanted to cut through the process and make it simpler for people,” Gilbert said.
There appears to be no limit on the how long these program will be available. “It won’t go away,” Gilbert said. “As I said it’s been around for 50 years of more. It’s not going to go away. If may change form, we may have a bus, we may not have a bus, but may do it differently, but we’re always going to try to come up with new ways to reach people we haven’t yet reached.”
Gilbert said there are rewards for those working on the bus.
“We see a lot of sad faces coming on the bus, people looking down,” Gilbert said. “To see that same person coming off the bus smiling” because of the help received is a very good feeling.
When the “Help is Here Express” bus moves on, people can visit PPA’s Web site ( 24 hours a day or call the toll-free phone number (1-888-4PPA-NOW) during business hours when trained operators field calls in 150 languages.
Caption: The “Help is Here Express” bus visited the office of the Weekly Sentinel while touring Maine to raise awareness on prescription assistance and chronic ills. (Weekly Sentinel photo)