Comment: Nonprofit offers access to free, low-cost medications

A program, created by the state Legislature, assures low- and moderate-income patients get the medications they need.

By Tommy Tobin and Kelly Armstrong / For The Herald

In his State of the Union Address, President Biden reminded us that Americans spend more on prescription drugs than any other major country.

The President also noted that inflation remains a problem. All too often, especially amid these increased prices, individuals here in Washington state and around the country face stark trade-offs when paying for prescription drugs and their other basic needs. The problem is especially stark for uninsured and underinsured Americans.

Fortunately, Washington has a nation-leading program, the Prescription Drug Assistance Foundation (PDAF), to assist individuals in obtaining prescription drugs at little or no cost.

As just one story of many, an asthma patient explained he had been rationing his medications over time because he could not afford to take them as prescribed. Similar stories of individuals struggling to afford much needed medications are heartbreaking. But they are not uncommon. PDAF can assist individuals, from cancer patients to those with diabetes, with obtaining prescription drugs at lower costs. PDAF assisted the patient who had asthma to apply for prescription assistance programs, and he was able to obtain the medications for free.

The state Legislature created PDAF in 2005 as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free assistance to any person in Washington state to help them afford the medications their health care provider prescribes. Low- and middle-income individuals may qualify and get their medications for free or at a reduced cost through prescription assistance programs. Since its inception, PDAF has helped patients get more than $120 million worth of medications for free or at a reduced cost.

PDAF’s mission is to make medications available to low-income, uninsured and underinsured Washingtonians at no or reduced cost. The majority of the patients PDAF serves are insured but have high co-pays for medications through their insurance plan. Other patients are either uninsured or have an insurance plan without drug coverage.

Given President Biden’s comments regarding inflation and prescription drug costs, we can do more in Washington state to address the costs of medicine for Washington residents.

First, patients can contact PDAF’s coordinators through its website: PDAF consultation is available to any Washington state resident with inadequate prescription drug coverage.

Second, health care providers, social service agencies, clinics, and other institutions can refer individuals to PDAF for free consultation and assistance. Doing so may help patients afford the medications they have been prescribed.

Third, qualified individuals can consider joining the PDAF board. As a non-profit created by the Washington legislature, PDAF’s board is appointed by the governor as one of the state’s boards and commissions.

The state itself created PDAF in 2005 to address the problem of prescription drug costs. Now in 2023, especially following the covid-19 pandemic and the president’s State of the Union address, this issue has only grown in salience. Washington’s PDAF offers a way forward to help individuals afford their medications, and it stands ready to assist.

Tommy Tobin is a Seattle attorney, an affiliate instructor at the University of Washington School of Law, and a board member of the Prescription Drug Assistance Foundation. Kelly Armstrong is the Spokane-based organization’s executive director.

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