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What to Do If You Can't Afford Your Medications During COVID-19

As the weeks go by during the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic and financial ramifications of the novel coronavirus continue to stack up. A total of 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment, which also puts many workers’ health insurance in limbo.

Many people with chronic health conditions who lost their job are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19. As a result, they’re not able to afford their medications and must make difficult — and potentially harmful — decisions about whether or not to take their medications.

“I haven’t been able to buy [my medications] at all,” said Mighty community member Allison H. “I’ve cut my dose in half trying to make it last but my symptoms are getting worse. I can’t function day to day anymore. I get out of bed just to lay on the sofa. I’m hardly eating now because I can’t stand long enough to cook or wash any dishes.”

Mighty community member Stefanie W. shared she had to cut the dose on one of her medications, which you should consult with your doctor before doing. The cost of another medication has been doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stefanie is trying to ration the meds she has because of the costs.

“I am running low and trying not to take them unless desperate,” Stefanie said. “Being off work means I can have more bad days… but that is for pain, insomnia and nausea. Nearly ended up in the hospital because of it last week. Only thing stopping me is my immune system wouldn’t handle hospitals.”

Here are five resources to consider if you’re struggling to pay for your medications:

1. Talk to Your Doctor or Pharmacist

Before making any changes to how or what medications you’re taking you should always talk with your doctor first. Not only does this reduce the risk of dangerous discontinuation or withdrawal symptoms or a resurgence of your illness, but your doctor may be able to help problem-solve.

For example, your doctor may be able to work with you to find a comparable but cheaper version of the medication you’re on. Sometimes doctors have sample medications on hand to help you get through a rough patch or have a lead on how to get a discount from drug manufacturers. Also, check with your pharmacist who may know of prescription assistance programs you can check out or other available solutions to lower your drug costs. 

2. Check With the Drug Manufacturer

Most drug companies offer patient assistance programs for those who can’t afford their medications. Pharma company Novo Nordisk, for example, announced it will provide a 90-day supply of insulin free to patients with diabetes who lost their insurance coverage. In addition to potential COVID-19 provisions to get patients their medications, you may also qualify for discount programs or other cost-lowering incentives.

Where to start:

  • Each company’s website should have information about its patient assistance program, so Google the brand name of your medication to find the website
  • Search for drug company programs using the Medicine Assistance Tool
  • RxAssist also lets you research for drug company assistance programs

3. Check With Your Insurance Company

Health insurance companies don’t have a good reputation advocating for patient drug costs, but these are unprecedented times. If you’re struggling to pay for the costs of your medication and are still covered by insurance, see if your health insurance plan will work with you. You may be able to switch to a 90-day supply of medication that lowers your overall cost or ask about other assistance you may qualify for.

Where to start:

  • Contact your insurance company directly and ask about any potential assistance with covering the costs of your medications during the COVID-19 crisis
  • America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) compiled a list of all the things insurance companies have announced they will do to help patients, so see what your plan may be offering

4. Search for Discount Coupons

Several prescription discount services have arisen over the years to deliver better medication costs to people with or without health insurance. These discount programs, such as GoodRx or BlinkHealth, allow you to compare medication prices at pharmacies near you to find the lowest price. You may have to download a discount card or coupon (often for free), but you can often save hundreds off the list price of your medications. 

Where to start:

5. Explore Other Prescription Assistance Programs

You may be able to get your medications at a more affordable rate or even for free through other prescription assistance programs. This may include government assistance programs, and you can check if you qualify for Medicaid or Medicare if you haven’t already. Other nonprofit organizations may also offer programs so you can keep taking your medications as prescribed. 

Where to start:

  • RxHope allows you to search by medication name and identifies all the assistance programs that cover the drug
  • NeedyMeds helps you find low-cost medication, assistance programs and health care regardless of insurance status, as well as other resources

Have you experienced trouble paying for your regular medications?

Header image via SB/Getty Images