With the debilitating costs of many pharmaceuticals, individuals can be confronted with choosing between medicine and other necessities like food, utilities or even rent. Sometimes, people will ration their prescriptions to extend periods between refilling.
Two Memphis-based nonprofits, the National Transplant Foundation and Good Shepherd Pharmacy, have teamed up to defray the cost of life-saving medications for recovering transplant patients.
“It is a new program and as far as I know we are the only one of this kind,” said Dr. Phillip Baker, founder of Good Shepherd Pharmacy, a nonprofit membership-based pharmacy that provides medications to those who lack health insurance.
Nationally, anti-rejection medication, which is part of the recovery following a transplant surgery, typically runs about $2,400 a month. Even with insurance, out-of-pocket costs can range from $200 to $600. Most patients recovering from surgery can’t work. Many are housebound and some are bed-ridden.
Patients of the National Transplant Foundation can receive financial hardship grants for transplant-related costs. This can drastically reduce or even eliminate the expense. In addition to anti-rejection medication, maintenance medications and medications prescribed for adverse reactions are included.
Through a partnership with Good Shepherd Pharmacy, patients who have received transplants can access pharmaceuticals at a reduced rate.
“When I met with Dr. Baker, I inquired about what some of the needs were, and he shared with me how the pharmacy began. From there, we recognized a connection,” said Michelle Gilchrist, president of the National Transplant Foundation.
“We already had direct billing relationships with Walgreens … and we wanted to see if we could do a similar program with a nonprofit focused on pharmaceuticals,” said Gilchrist.
When the pharmacy first opened in 2015, it offered around 300 medicines free to low-income, uninsured patients. After realizing that many insured patients struggled to meet the costs of pharmaceuticals, the nonprofit started ordering through a wholesaler. These were offered at no markup. Soon, the first patients were saving upwards of $500 a month, according to Baker.
The non-profit is financially self-sustaining after adding a monthly membership fee of $40.
“We cut out the middlemen and all of their corrupt pricing mechanisms and shine a light on the true costs of prescription medication,” said Dr. Baker.
In its first 19 months, Good Shepherd dispensed more than $3.3 million in donated medications. The savings were passed on to the healthcare system of Memphis, which avoided $3 million in costs.
And the numbers could grow.
Over 10,000 Memphians have trouble affording medicine, according to Baker.
“PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers] have a monopoly on the industry; they prize profits over patients in the current healthcare environment. Good Shepherd's model is based on transparency and focusing on the patient. We're making medicine affordable for the people who have had to go without,” said Baker.
A statewide reclamation program will allow Good Shepherd to accept prescription donations too. Generally, medicines that go unpurchased are tossed out.
“We will be diverting prescription meds from our lakes and landfills into the hands of people who would not otherwise afford them,” said Baker.
Additionally, the pharmacy also serves as a training ground for Certified Pharmacy Technicians. Students are trained up to board certification in 6 months.
With the local success of the program, there are ambitions of having it serve as a model nationally. The partnership with the National Transplant Foundation improves the odds of that happening.
Established in 1983 in Memphis, the National Transplant Foundation serves all states and territories. Its fundraising campaigns have amassed nearly $81 million. Over 4,000 patients are assisted annually.
The end goal is to ensure that people who need medication simply to live or to maintain a chronic condition won’t have finances as the barrier from having a better quality of life.
“We want to replicate this program all over the country and offer an alternative to the insurance-based pharmacy model,” said Baker.