One local organization helps local clinics provide medication to those in need
RICHMOND – Medicine is not cheap in this country. In fact, Consumer Reports says in the last year alone, 30% of Americans saw their costs rise. Rather than risk financial instability, some people leave the pharmacy with their prescription slip in hand, but not the accompanying pills.
One Richmond organization sought to change that in 2003 – and they’ve been doing so ever since.
Rx Partnership is exactly what it sounds like. The nonprofit organization coordinates the donation of bulk brand medication from brand pharmaceutical manufacturers to 32 clinics across the state. Helping patients attain necessary prescriptions, Rx Partnership serves as the middle man.
‘It took a lot of paperwork’
In 2003, uninsured, low income patients had two bad options. Either they paid exceptionally high prices at the local pharmacy or they took part in a patient assistance program.
“It took a lot of paper work and had a lot of time before medication was actually shipped to them,” Amy Yarcich, Rx Partnership’s executive director, said. “A group of folks got their heads together and said, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ And that inquisition into what a better way could be is really what started Rx Partnership.”
Working with foundations and organizations that work closely with patients in need, the group came up with a new approach.
“It allows us to, kind of in a decentralized way, get medications directly to clinics with pharmacies and for them to get it out to patients,” Yarcich said. “We are coordinating information and just making sure that the free meds and the low cost meds get to the patients who need it.”
The organization doesn’t step in for every case, but for the people demonstrating a need when other resources don’t exist or aren’t enough.
“Folks who are working, sometimes one or two jobs, cannot afford insurance,” Yarcich said. “It’s not offered to them. This way, if they are uninsured, there is a way to make sure they’re not spending their limited income on medications.”
In 2017, Rx Partnership expanded. The organization launched the Access to Medication Program, in which Rx Partnership leverages group purchasing power, providing generic medications to clinics without pharmacies.
This year, they expanded their offerings once again. Now, patients may receive their medication through the mail, rather than walking into their local pharmacy. COVID-19 propelled the program, but didn’t initially prompt it.
“We’re so excited to be able to offer this program,” Yarcich said. “This is something that had been part of our long-term strategic plan, but I have to say, when COVID hit and it hit so suddenly, we knew we had to swing into action, get this up and running as quickly as possible to really meet a need that was very compelling. We were able to, within 30 days of COVID hitting, at the end of April, actually launch this mail delivery program.”
The nonprofit raised funds from a number of different foundations and corporations across the state who also noted the importance of the cause. The executive director expressed that with their help and support, the idea moved quickly.
“As a result, the clinics are able to mail the packages to patients. They can put in meds they’ve got through Rx Partnership. They can add into that package maybe over the counter products that they have that they need. Maybe it’s something that came from an individual’s patient assistance program,” Yarcich said. “They put whatever that patient needs in that bag and mail it out.”
Helping the community
The medication mailing program isn’t only convenient – it’s helpful. Also, it’s free for both the patients and clinics.
“The patient doesn’t need to come to the clinic. This saves a lot of time with the transportation challenge that some patients have,” Yarcich said. “It certainly keeps patients and the staff at the clinic safer, limiting some of that contact that’s unnecessary.”
In use since the end of April, the program is in its sixth month. In connection with successful feedback, Rx Partnership expanded the program through the middle of next year.
At this point, it is a program that is still fairly new, but we’ve shipped almost 1,000 packages. We have 10 different participating clinics and we’re hoping that more clinics will be joining soon. The program has been extended through the end of June 2021,” Yarcich said. “At first we weren’t sure how much this was going to cost, if we had the funds for it. But it’s been going so well. That’s where, when we kind of pilot something, it gives us a chance to test it out and improve it.”
Over the past half-year, the medication mailing program made improvements from its April beginnings.
“We were able to reduce down the per package cost to about 65% from when we first started to a few months in. I think that’s a big deal,” Yarcich said. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re raising money, but we’re going to use that money and spend it wisely. I think that helps donors feel like, when they contribute to our partnership, it’s making a real difference for the patients.”
Donor dollars count
Rx Partnership’s website displays that a $1 donation could provide someone $30 worth of medications. Yarcich explained exactly how that equation worked.
“It’s very impressive because if you could invest a dollar and get that kind of return on investment, everybody would be signing up. With us, it comes into play because we look at the budget of Rx Partnership and how much it costs to operate. And then, what we’re able to do with donated products,” Yarcich said. “So I guess part of that equation is that these brand pharmaceutical prices are really high. They’re donated to us for free, so that certainly helps explain that equation. It just goes to show that it would not be affordable for a patient without insurance to possibly get some of these branded medications.”
The group also helps those seeking medications without brand names.
“We have since added in generic medications. We also get those at a very competitive price using a group purchasing organization,” Yarcich said. “We’re always trying to do more with what we have, as far as resources. That’s crucial to our philosophy.”
Donations help Rx Partnership provide necessary medications to those in need of assistance.
“It’s sometimes a complicated thing to help people understand medication access and why drug prices are the way they are,” Yarcich said. “I don’t have some of those big solutions, you know, to be able to wave a magic wand to fix it. We’re here at the ground level making sure that people, real people get what they need.”
The trip to the doctor
With or without insurance, going to the doctor isn’t typically on folk’s fun activities list. However, for those with ailments that don’t disappear – especially without treatment – Yarcich encouraged making and keeping appointments.
“What I really encourage is for patients who might be suffering from a chronic condition, who maybe have COPD, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, to first off not be afraid to reach out and get care,” Yarcich said. “I think especially during COVID, people are maybe reluctant to go somewhere and be seen by a doctor. Free clinics are wonderful in terms of the services that they provide. A lot of them have started doing a lot more with Telehealth. For those visits that are in-person, they are following all kinds of protocols to keep everyone safe.”
If the fear of medication costs keeps a person from the doctor’s office, there are oftentimes programs out there that can help. But first, they need the right advice from the proper professional.
“I think that the first thing is to make sure that people are connected with a provider, somebody who can diagnose their condition, treat the condition, prescribe medication,” Yarcich said. “That’s where Rx Partnership is kind of behind the scenes a little bit. We come in to make sure that the medications are there, that there aren’t any kinds of delays. If somebody’s diagnosed with something, we want them to quickly get started on the mediations they need. This is going to keep them out of the hospital. It’s going to allow them to work, support their family. This is critical for their health and their life.”
Even though Rx Partnership has been around for 17 years, there’s still work to do.
“That’s what gets me up in the morning, is the fact that what we’re doing is so important,” Yarcich said.
Since the organization started in 2003, it assisted 75,000 patients with 800,000 prescriptions at a $215,000,000 value. That, in part, is because it moved and changed with the times.
“There’s a lot of room for innovation and expansion, so it’s not the same organization that it was in 2003. We’ve been responsive to the environment that we’re operating in. [We’ve] had Medicaid expansion. We’ve had a lot of other things that are important happening in our world. We at Rx Partnership have shifted,” Yarcich said. “The COVID is just the perfect example. The fact that we’re realizing what’s important right now is continuing to access the medications that people have been on and mail delivery is a perfect example of it. I think we’re nimble, we’re shifting, we’re growing as we need to. That’s what allows us to really be the successful organization that we are.”
Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]