Community Safety Net Providers Struggle to Maintain Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs for Low-Income, Uninsured People Under Age 65

News Release
April 26, 2006

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or [email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC—As the number of uninsured Americans increases, community safety net providers are stretching limited resources to meet growing prescription drug needs for low-income, uninsured people under age 65, according to a study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

While the new Medicare drug benefit has helped alleviate concerns about prescription drug access for elderly and disabled Americans, many low-income, uninsured people under age 65 continue to rely on community safety nets to get needed medications, according to the study. Despite redoubled efforts—centered on obtaining discounted drugs and donated medications—to make affordable drugs available to needy patients, safety net providers and community advocates report that many low-income, uninsured people continue to face major barriers to obtaining prescription drugs.

"While policy makers have focused on extending prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries, the prescription drug needs of nonelderly, low-income people without coverage are a growing problem," said Paul B. Ginsburg, Ph.D., president of HSC, a nonpartisan policy research organization funded principally by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study's findings are detailed in a new HSC Issue Brief—The Community Safety Net and Prescription Drug Access for Low-Income, Uninsured People. The study is based on HSC's 2005 site visits to 12 nationally representative communities: Boston; Cleveland; Greenville, S.C.; Indianapolis; Lansing, Mich.; Little Rock, Ark.; Miami; northern New Jersey; Orange County, Calif.; Phoenix; Seattle; and Syracuse, N.Y.

"While safety net providers have made acquiring free or reduced-cost medications an integral part of their daily operations, access to affordable prescription drug remains a challenge across communities," said HSC Health Researcher Laurie Felland, coauthor of the study with HSC consulting researcher Erin Fries Taylor of Mathematica Policy Research and Anneliese M. Gerland, an HSC health research assistant.

Safety net hospitals and community health centers (CHCs) typically have on-site pharmacies or contract with outside pharmacies to offer a full range of medications, usually charging patients a copayment. To help control drug costs, safety net providers frequently use generic drugs, and some have adopted preferred drug lists.

The study found that safety net providers have adopted or expanded the following strategies to maintain access to prescription drugs for low-income patients:

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation's changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is funded principally by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.