Helping Uninsured with Chronic Illness Stay Healthy Through Prescription Drug Coverage

The staff of NOVA ScriptsCentral.

Tom worked full-time as assistant manager at a local store to support his wife and children. Chronic heart failure made it difficult for his wife Susan to work and also get the health insurance she needed to cope with her illness. Susan’s condition required five medications that cost a total of several thousand dollars each month. Because she lacked insurance, Susan couldn’t afford the medications, was forced to go without them, and was frequently hospitalized, adding to the family’s already stretched medical bills.

This unfortunate example is a common experience of patients referred to NOVA ScriptsCentral (NSC), a NVHF grantee that helps provide prescription drugs to Northern Virginia’s uninsured. Since being accepted to NSC’s program, Susan has had consistent access to the life-saving medications she needs, at a reasonable cost, and she has avoided further hospitalizations.

How does the program work?

NSC partners with 13 different clinics throughout Northern Virginia that serve uninsured patients with a wide range of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and asthma. NSC fills the patient’s prescription and a licensed pharmacist provides counseling on how to take medications properly and why it’s important to keep taking them. The patient is asked to contribute $5. If he or she can’t afford it, the fee is waived.

When asked about the unique services NSC provides to Northern Virginia, NSC Interim Executive Director, Dr. Donney John, said, “Our mission is rooted in the premise that low-income people deserve the same care as everyone else, even if they can’t afford it. The typical NSC clients are working families that make less than $40,000 a year but don’t qualify for federal programs.”

With support from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, NSC recently conducted a survey of partner clinics about how to develop NSC’s program to continue to meet patient and clinic needs. Clinics cited challenges such as transportation issues, language barriers, and patients not taking their medications. To help address these, NSC is testing out a new approach: allowing patients to receive medications through the mail so they don’t have to travel to pick them up. NSC is also making prescriptions more widely accessible to non-English speakers by using new labels with pictures to help those who can’t read or who are not fluent in English. NSC will also soon increase counseling with patients to make sure they take their medications and get their prescriptions refilled on time when receiving medications through the mail.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to try out these new approaches and the potential they have to help us better serve our clinics and their patients,” said Dr. John.