The good news is, a little known program: the Medication Assistance Program, MAP for short, is available to low income individuals in our area.
"Take the heart medication Plavix, for example," says Jamie Gould as she checks information on her computer. "One 75 milligram pill costs about $7.78 at a drug store."
A few punches on a nearby calculator reveal a 90-day supply of Plavix will cost about $700, putting the medication out of reach for many low income individuals with no health insurance.
"It's really sad when people take their heart medication or fluid pill just twice a week (to stretch their 30-day supply) or do not take their medication at all because they just can't afford it," says Gould. "Their health declines because they need that medicine every day."
Gould's job is to help area residents who cannot afford medications get a free supply from the pharmaceutical companies who produce them.
Gould works for the Medical Assistance Program, a state program that began in January of 2009.
The idea behind MAP is something most individuals do not know. Most pharmaceutical companies set aside a portion of their profits to provide medications to individuals who live at the poverty level or below.
"We are basically a facilitator. We know how to navigate the system. We have software to determine what medications pharmaceutical companies provide to low income patients and we have the ability to file requests for assistance," Gould explains.
Since MAP began a year and a half ago, Gould and Tina Venteicher, who represent 10 North Central Arkansas counties, have helped 388 low income patients obtain more than $600,000 worth of free medicines.
MAP would like to reach more people who qualify for help, especially in Fulton County where there has been little publicity about the program.
"People need to understand the program is free," says Diane Plemmons who helps coordinate MAP through the North Central Health Education Center. "There is no charge for applying for assistance. There is no charge for the medicines companies supply to individuals. Sometimes, people hear about the program and think there's a catch."
To get information about MAP, residents of Fulton, Sharp, Izard, Marion and Baxter Counties can call Jamie Gould at 870-251-6478.
Patients need to supply proof of income, information on whether they have any type of insurance, and a list of the medications they are supposed to take.
Gould then makes application to pharmaceutical companies for clients who meet poverty guidelines. Depending on a company's policy, medications are sent directly to patients who qualify or go to their doctors for pick up.
"By the time they get to me, people are often desperate and crying," says Gould.
Gould has found the job she took in early 2009 involves a lot more than just submitting applications to insurance companies. While she is often cast into stressful, emotional situations as she talks to clients, Gould says a lot of satisfaction comes with the job.
"My reward is hugs, I get lots of hugs," says Gould, as clients begin receiving medicines they could not regularly afford. "One 80-year-old woman drove a long way to give me cookies," Gould adds, "I like cookies."
Is Gould worried this article will prompt a huge pile of new applications that are going to cover her desk?
"That would be a good problem to have," Gould insists.
"Since I have offices in Sharp and Izard Counties, I have many clients in those areas. I know the need does not stop there. There are people in crisis in every county in need of a reliable supply of medications."
Plemmons hopes for a good response, as well. "Our mission is to improve the health of people in our community. This program can help tremendously."