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Drug info available for free

By Michael Davis

McDonough resident Lynn Wenner has always been a little skeptical when it comes to getting forms in the mail. And she has tried to impart that skepticism to her mother, Julia Morgan, 87, of Morrow.

But it seems some aren't so savvy when it comes to identifying the best deals on prescription drugs.

"If they are having to get a lot of medication, they're very open to any kind of mailout – they'll jump at it," said Wenner, herself 65 and co-chairwoman of a Henry-based senior citizens' watchdog group.

Wenner at present doesn't have to take a lot of expensive prescription medication, but at 87, her mother gets dubious mailings regularly.

"I sort of look at everything with a question mark," Wenner said. "But I have to warn my mother all the time."

But GeorgiaCares, the state's health insurance assistance program, says that not everyone is so skeptical when it comes to shopping for the best deals in the confusing discount drug market – and that's where seniors can be taken for a ride.

"Some companies have begun charging a fee for providing information on free or low-cost prescription programs ... to people who do not have insurance coverage for prescriptions," according to a warning released recently by the agency.

Lisa Federico, an insurance counselor with GeorgiaCares, said at least one Georgia senior has fallen prey to a scam to charge a fee for information on free and reduced-cost drug programs offered by pharmaceutical companies.

"She's paid out over $500 to this company to do what we can do at GeorgiaCares for free," she said.

Many major pharmaceutical companies offer discount programs to the poor and uninsured. If a patient qualifies, and has a letter from their doctor, the patient can receive their medication through a patient assistance program.

But information on those programs is offered for free.

"It seems that she paid the company to research these patient assistance programs and they just mailed her out these applications," Federico said.

For example, drug maker Pfizer offers several patient assistance programs specifically tailored to a number of its more popular prescription drugs.

The metro Area Agency on Aging, which encompasses the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission region, receives and average of 1,300 calls per month to the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), Federico said. "We are just really here to help people navigate through what can be a confusing system for an older adult," she said.

A new initiative expected to be launched on Tuesday would provide everyone in the region with usable drug information, said Grace Trimble, a spokeswoman for ARC.

Teaming up with Consumers Union, which publishes the popular Consumer Reports magazine, the ARC's Area Agency on Aging is launching a Best Buy Drugs campaign that will provide comparative drug information, complete with price details, they hope will arm consumers with the knowledge they need to have informed conversations with their doctors about what drug will work best at what cost.

"Many times patients, because they don't have health coverage, never get their prescriptions filled," Trimble said. Because doctors are sometimes not as cost-conscious as their patients, they may prescribe an expensive medication when a cheaper one would work as well, she said.

"This is a program essentially to help (uninsured) consumers compare the cost of drugs," Trimble said.

On the net:

Atlanta Regional Commission's Area Agency on Aging

http://www.atlantaregional.com

Georgia Department of Human Resources Division of Aging Services

http://www.aging.dhr.georgia.gov