Santa Clara County residents will pay less for meds
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian led the effort to launch MedAssist to help residents offset high prescription drug costs. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

    Santa Clara County is expanding resident access to life-saving prescription drugs—and helping cover the cost.

    County officials rallied in front of the Santa Clara Valley Healthcare Pharmacy in Mountain View Wednesday to encourage local city officials, school board members and hospital representatives to spread the word about the program. Santa Clara County launched the effort, called MedAssist, in March with a budget of $1 million. The monthly grant program has been helping residents pay for asthma inhalers, insulin or epinephrine auto-injectors (EPI pens). It will now include all other types of diabetes medication.

    Roughly 120,000 Santa Clara County residents have diabetes, but many with the disease no longer rely solely on insulin for treatment, officials said.

    “The help is here,” said Supervisor Joe Simitian, who led the launch of the program. “If you have a valid prescription and you need these life-saving drugs, it doesn’t matter who your doctor is or where you get your medication, MedAssist will be here to help you.”

    The program is designed to help patients who are not qualified for state or federal support programs but also don’t make enough to keep up with the high drug costs. Residents who use private pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens and those with middle class incomes are also eligible for the grant program. The median income for one person in the county is $117,950, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    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 medications such as asthma inhalers, insulin or EPI pens. They also need to meet the income requirement. For example, a family of four making $263,000 would be eligible for the program.

    The program aims to combat the high prescription drug costs and prevent medical complications among those with chronic illnesses. With the costs for these life-saving treatments skyrocketing in the past decade, many patients are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the medication they need, officials said. Even with health insurance, some patients pay upward of $400 in copay for their medications.

    “These life-saving drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars per year even with health insurance,” said Dr. Patricia Salmon, chief of endocrinology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “It’s criminal that the health system in America has limited these drugs to those with the right income level or the right type of insurance.”

    More than 170 patients are in the program, with another 200 applications waiting to be approved. The county has a goal of approving applications within 30 days. County officials hope to enroll 1,000 patients in the program in the next year.

    “We are making applying for this program extremely easy,” said Dr. Narinder Singh, director of pharmacy services at Santa Clara Valley Healthcare, noting a patient can apply online, over the phone or in person. “We want you to be safe.”

    County officials said the program will be life-saving—and life-changing—as it helps patients adhere to their medication plans, potentially reducing the number of emergency room trips and their chance of developing medical complications.

    Local physicians said the subsidy will alleviate the financial burden many patients in the county face. This program will add another layer of safety for those with medical conditions.

    “We will save money in the long run,” Salmon said. “It costs so much more to manage the complications of diabetes, (which includes) the hospitalizations, the dialysis, the surgeries that are required. We want to get these drugs to everyone who needs them.”

    Learn more and apply to the program here.

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

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