Santa Clara County to subsidize prescription drug costs


Santa Clara County is launching a program to help offset high prescription drug costs for residents with chronic diseases.

MedAssist will provide monthly grants to adults who rely on asthma inhalers, insulin or epinephrine auto-injectors (EPI pens) to function on a daily basis. The county has worked on this effort for several years and has already enrolled several dozen patients at county hospitals in a soft launch last October.

“No one should ever have to make a choice between the food on the table and their prescription medications, but this choice is being made every single day,” said Dr. Narinder Singh, director of pharmacy services at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, at Tuesday news conference. “MedAssist is going to help us close this gap.”

According to the county, more than 20% of South Bay residents—or 400,000 people—have asthma, diabetes or have been prescribed an EPI pen. Roughly 100,000 people are eligible for the program.

The costs for prescription drugs have skyrocketed in the past decade, making it difficult for many patients to get the medication they need. Even with health insurance, some patients pay upward of $400 in copay for their medications, county officials said.

“If we can make it easier for folks to afford their high cost prescriptions, we can not only help them financially, but we can also help them make sure they don’t miss a dose and achieve better health outcomes over the long haul,” county Supervisor Joe Simitian said.

Robert Donovan, a patient enrolled in MedAssist, said the program helps pay for his inhalers that are essential to his health. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

The county has a $1 million budget for the first year of the program. Officials hope to enroll 1,000 patients in upcoming months.

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To qualify, a patient has to be at least 18 years old and a county resident. The patient needs to have a valid prescription for asthma inhalers, insulin or EPI pens and meet the income requirement. A family of four making $241,000 would be eligible for the program.

County officials said the program could be life-saving—and life-changing—as it helps patients adhere to their medication plans, potentially reducing the number of emergency room trips. County physicians also said the subsidy will alleviate the financial burden many patients in the county face—adding another layer of safety for those with medical conditions.

“These medications are life-saving,” Dr. Gerardo Solorio-Cortes of Valley Health Center Gilroy said. “Not only that, they prevent ER visits, hospitalizations, complications and deaths.”

Robert Donovan, who needs inhalers among other medications, is one of a few dozen people already enrolled in MedAssist.

“Over the years I see so many of my medications, including inhalers, have increased in costs dramatically,” Donovan said. “If I didn’t have help from MedAssist program, I would have to cut back on the basics, like food, to be able to pay for the inhalers I can’t live without.”

County officials said the program is a local effort to help residents, as changes and reforms are slow at the federal level.

“Folks I represent can’t wait,” Simitian said. “They got a problem right here right now. We waited a long time. We can’t wait any longer.”

Click here to learn more about the program:

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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