The Drugs-free Path PDA/USA Is Helping Low-income People Access Needed Medications

John Stocks talks about a woman in Agawam who had been paying $700 per month on seven drug prescriptions — that’s more than $8,000 annually, sliced out of a pension that pays only $18,000.


Now, she’s paying just $70 per month for the same medications, using prescription-assistance programs that have long been available to lower-income Americans but are not well-publicized and are often confusing for senior citizens to access.

That’s where Stocks’ entrepreneurial venture, PDA/USA, comes in. The non-profit company, launched less than a year ago, gives people who meet certain income guidelines an easy-to-use, one-stop online center to gain easy access to more than 1,000 common drugs — for free.

“Seniors don’t know that there are programs that give free medications for people in economic distress,” said Stocks, a former commercial attorney who first learned of the concept from a lawyer friend in Texas and was intrigued. “But it can be a real advantage for those who are most in need of prescriptions.”

Considering the amount of press given the high cost of prescription medications, he said, it’s surprising that more people aren’t aware of the aid that’s available. But PDA/USA, the first three letters of which stand for Prescription Drug Assistance, is trying to bridge the gap between these programs and the people who need them — sometimes desperately so.

An Easier Way

All major drug companies participate in patient assistance programs (PAPs). To access a PAP, a patient would have to go to a pharmaceutical company’s Web site, locate the proper forms, download them, fill them out, have a doctor sign them, and return them to the drug firm.

“This can be difficult, especially if you’re not Internet-savvy,” Stocks said, pulling out a number of forms from different companies — all very different.

To launch PDA/USA, which is based at the Andrew Scibelli Enterprise Center at Springfield Technical Community College, STCC professor Kenneth Dupont developed the program that makes the company’s Web site — — tick.

Users fill out five forms, detailing personal information, finances, health, physician information, and what prescriptions they use. The site then determines which pharmaceutical company forms are needed; when printed, they are completely and accurately filled out by the program, even if they are formatted differently. All the patient has to do is bring the forms to their doctor to sign, and the physician returns them to PDA/USA, which handles the rest.

“You hit a button, go make some coffee, and everything prints out for you,” Stocks said. “That’s one thing that’s so fabulous about this.”

To enroll in the service, users must have a gross annual income of $16,000 or less, or $25,000 or less for a family, as these are typical guidelines established by the pharmaceutical firms. However, PDA/USA can possibly work with potential customers who make slightly more.

Stocks charges a $10 fee for each 30-day supply of a prescription filled under the program, hoping that users of the service will consider that a fair price for the convenience. He has amassed only about 60 customers so far, but expects to add more — thousands more, as word gets out, he hopes — and to lower the processing fee as the business sees more volume.
The number of local employees, currently just Stocks, Dupont, and one other staffer, will also rise along with demand, he said, although he will continue to outsource incoming phone calls, which he must currently do to ensure 24-hour service. In addition to Massachusetts, Stocks has agents working in Connecticut and Michigan, and is also eyeing potential markets in Dallas, Santa Fe, and San Francisco.

Growing Need

Stocks sees plenty more potential than that, however. The high cost of prescription drugs has become a hot-button issue in politics and the press, and for good reason. A University of Maryland study recently determined that spending on pharmaceuticals has increased by 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 15{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} annually since the early 1990s.

Furthermore, the rapid advance of medical technology, along with the aging of the population brought on by Baby Boomers reaching the retirement years, will only increase the financial strain. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, 80{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of retirees use at least one prescription drug daily, and the number of retirees in the marketplace is expected to rise dramatically as the Baby Boom generation ages.

Yet, PAPs have long been available to needy consumers, Stocks said. According to the New York Times, they help Americans fill more than 10 million prescriptions annually. These programs, along with outright donations of medicine overseas and to needy agencies in the U.S., are some of the components of a total of $12 billion donated by drug companies every year — a fact that’s not often considered when people talk about the big, bad pharmaceutical firms, he noted.

“Like other things in life, no one is as good or as bad as they appear to be,” he said. “These are wonderful programs offered by pharmaceutical companies, but few people are aware of them.”

Stocks is trying to change that locally. He is putting together a pilot program with Springfield Southwest Community Health Centers in an effort to register hundreds or even thousands of area residents, and is considering waiving the $10 fee for people under the federal poverty line.

Stocks knows that, while PAPs are good PR for drug firms, they still have a natural desire to keep them under the radar, as not to give away too much. But Stocks hasn’t even gotten much help from local lawmakers in spreading the word that his service exists.

“I don’t need money from them,” he said. “I just need people to be aware of this. The idea is to get as many people in Greater Springfield to access this as possible.”
He told The Healthcare News that the program is not limited to seniors; it income-based, not age-based. And that opens it up to struggling single mothers and other constituencies as well.
Whatever the customer base, Stocks said the satisfaction of helping needy people access medications certainly outweighs that of practicing law.

“I’ve had a woman cry when the doctors said she can get her drugs,” he said. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”

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