Program Helps With Medication Needs
Since 2003, the FirstHealth Cares medication assistance program has helped 1,448 people get prescription medications valued at a total of $2.178 million.
One of them is Roy LaForce of Robbins.
"I wouldn't have been able to make it without that program," LaForce says. "I can't say a bad word about it."
His wife, Kathy, agrees. "I don't know how we would have made it without it," she says.
FirstHealth Cares provides access to vital, and often costly, prescription medications by putting patients in touch with assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies.
The FirstHealth Cares staff includes a resource coordinator who identifies the appropriate program and helps the patient complete the necessary paperwork, and a registered pharmacist who is available, by appointment, to provide medication consultations.
"Most of the patients who come to us simply don't have the means to pay for their medications," says pharmacist Julie Vargas, who manages First-Health Cares. "They say, 'I either eat or I buy my medicine,' and they obviously have to eat. Then they end up in the emergency room with heart failure or a diabetic crisis, because they don't have the medicine to control their disease."
LaForce is typical of the Moore County residents who are eligible for the program. A former Virginia coal miner, LaForce worked in maintenance at Pinehurst's famed No. 2 golf course until two years ago when diabetes and a chronic heart condition forced him into medical disability.
According to his wife, he has had two heart attacks, maybe more, and probably contracted black lung disease during his 17 years of coal mining.
He takes about 25 pills a day in addition to the injected insulin that he needs for his diabetes.
"You about name it and I take it," he says.
The cost of LaForce's medications comes to $900 to $1,000 a month, and FirstHealth Cares has helped him get most of it at no charge.
Melinda Wallace, a FirstHealth Cares resource coordinator, researched the medication assistance programs that were appropriate for LaForce and helped him with his application. Her office is in the Sandhills Pediatrics building in Southern Pines, where she also assists medication clients with Medicare education and counseling.
That service is especially valuable to clients like LaForce, who recently left the FirstHealth Cares program when he qualified for Medicaid disability coverage. He will become eligible for Medicare coverage in January.
"I partner with our Department of Aging and help individuals evaluate the (Medicare) plans and explain the 'extra help' that may be available to them," Wallace says.
People who qualify for FirstHealth Cares assistance do not have any form of prescription insurance coverage, including Medicare Part D and Medicaid. Most live in Moore and Montgomery counties, although there is some Richmond County participation.
Eligibility is based on income, and the applicant must have a Social Security number. But there are no age restrictions. In fact, the prescription coverage options provided by Medicare Part D eliminated many previously eligible seniors -- and younger disabled individuals -- from the FirstHealth Cares rolls.
"We can help 10-year-olds," Vargas says. "We can help 30-year-olds. We see everybody, patients who are on dialysis, who have really bad diabetes, and who have uncontrolled cholesterol. We have people who are on 20 medications. The average is eight to 10 medications per patient."
FirstHealth Cares began with a grant from the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments. At the time, only Montgomery County residents age 65 and older were eligible. With additional grant funding, the program became a part of FirstHealth Community Health Services and expanded into Moore County.
Most referrals to FirstHealth Cares come from physicians and the local Department of Social Services, but patients can also refer themselves.
Most drug companies have medication assistance programs, and Wallace uses special state-developed software that tells her which pharmaceutical companies offer which drugs.
When she finds a match, she sends the patient's physician an application form to sign and then forwards it to the drug company.
Medications go to the FirstHealth Cares office in Troy, where Vargas is headquartered and where the prescription is filled. The patient picks it up at the site nearest his or her home: at Tarheel Drug in Robbins, The Prescription Shoppe in Aberdeen or FirstHealth Standard Drug in Troy.
Kathy LaForce hopes that her husband's Medicaid eligibility has opened up a spot in the FirstHealth Cares program to someone else.
"We don't need it, so maybe somebody else might," she says. "God knows, we sure have appreciated it. It sure has helped us."
For more information on the FirstHealth Cares medication assistance program, you can call 692-5062 in Southern Pines or (910) 571-5975 in Troy.
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