Healthy Aging Column – Finding Help with Medical Costs

As the cost of medical insurance climbs and Medicare and Medicaid funding continues to shrink, many older individuals are searching for ways to maintain their quality of life. There are some little-known resources designed for uninsured and underserved aging or disabled persons.

Many states have prescription drug assistance programs. However, as of November 2002,  Colorado became one of 14 states that does not have a program. For information on drug assistance available nationwide, Volunteers in Health provides information about non-governmental pharmaceutical access programs to fill the gaps not provided by governmental programs. Volunteers in Health is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with Brown University and the Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island.

If you cannot afford to buy prescription medications, most drug manufacturers offer a limited supply of free prescription medication to eligible patients. These Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Patient Assistance Programs, or PAPs, have one- to two-page application forms  that are free from your physician or from the pharmaceutical manufacturer. For people with Internet access, most applications are available online. For more information about PAPs, talk with your doctor or pharmacist, or refer to the PhRMA directory.

You may obtain the PhRMA directory online at or by calling 1-800-762-4636. Your physician or local Area Agency on Aging office can assist with completing the PAP application. To find the nearest Area Agency on Aging office, call 1-800-677-1116. Be cautious of other organizations that offer help with completing PAP applications because there may be a fee that may or may not be refundable.

If you are disabled or over 65, a Medicare recipient and have no other prescription coverage, many pharmaceutical companies have drug discount cards. The household income limits for these discount cards range from $18,000 to $30,000 for individuals and $24,000 to $40,000 for couples. Some provide  discounts on all drugs they manufacture, while others provide discounts only on selected drugs. These discount cards have no enrollment or annual fee but are valid only at participating pharmacies. If you are interested in these discount cards, find out if your pharmacy will accept the card provided by the manufacturer of your most expensive prescription.

Military members and veterans also have options for assistance with medical costs.   Contact the Veteran’s Administration at 1-877-222-8387 or Or you can go to for information regarding the National Mail Order Pharmacy Program and find the phone number of your regional office.

If you can afford to pay a portion of the cost of your prescriptions and do not meet the income criteria for PAPs and Manufacturer’s Drug Discount Cards, there are free and membership fee discount programs. The Nonprofit Warehouse’s Prescription Drug Discount Program has no fee and it is available to any individual regardless of age or income. Call 770-541-7777 or go to for more information.

There are also group discount drug plans offered through employee benefits programs or membership in national organizations. Check with all professional and special interest organizations of which you are a member to see if this is a benefit of membership. These group discount plans usually have an annual membership fee.

If you are a U. S. citizen or legal resident over 65 who has not seen an ophthalmologist in the last three years, do not have an HMO and are not eligible for VA or Armed Forces care, you can call 1-800-222-3937. This National Eye Care Project Hotline will match eligible callers with one of 7,600 volunteer ophthalmologists nationwide.

The physician will provide a comprehensive medical eye examination and treatment for any condition diagnosed at the initial visit. If ongoing treatment is needed, it will be provided for one year. This program does not cover eyeglasses, prescriptions, hospital services and fees of other medical professionals. This service is funded by the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc., state ophthalmological societies and volunteer ophthalmologists.

If none of these options match your circumstance, community health centers, national disease advocacy organizations or social service and religious organizations may be able to help you. Contact your local health department or senator or congressperson’s office if you cannot locate medication assistance or medical care on your own.

For additional articles on Healthy Aging, go to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Web site at www.ext.colostate.ed.  Go to info-online, click on consumer and family, and then scroll down to Healthy Aging.  

By Janet Benavente, Family and Consumer Extension Agent, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Adams County