A Helping Hand by Ben Richter

By the time 4:30PM rolls around, my service day is winding down. The waiting room has been cleared out, and the last patients of the day are making their way out the front doors of the Health Center. I’m reviewing all of my records, performing a self-audit to make sure I didn’t miss anything over the course of the day. I take a deep breath, a sip of hot tea, and confirm that all is well. As I go to sign out of the medical records system, I notice I’ve got a new message from one of the doctors. Prescription Assistance members frequently communicate with providers, and in most cases it’s a simple request for a prescriber’s signature on an application. Other times the prescriber may be reaching out to recommend a patient to the program. I could wait until the morning, but I decide to check the message before I head out for the day.

The doctor is recommending a patient to the Patient Assistance Program (PAP). Nothing surprising there. What did catch my eye, however, was the patient’s situation. This patient has been living with Hepatitis B for over 8 months. They have health insurance, but for some reason insurance won’t pay for treatment. I immediately think about all of my patients already receiving treatment for Hep B through our program, and know we can help this patient too. I give the patient a call, and they are delighted to hear from me. They’re in my office the very next day, and we’re going through the application together. The patient is approved, and a couple weeks later I receive the medicine in my office. I take a deep breath, a sip of hot tea, and pick up the phone to deliver the good news.

Medicine is expensive. According to GoodRx, the average retail price of a month’s worth of Hepatitis B pills is $888.67. Using our best resources, a PAP member could get you these 30 pills for just over $100. It’s a dramatic improvement, to be sure, but $100 a month is no small price for a lot of our patients, many of whom are unemployed. Those who do work are usually living paycheck to paycheck.

Chronic infections can be deadly. Left untreated, Hepatitis B can lead to liver disease, cirrhosis, and, eventually, liver failure. Liver failure is serious, but may not manifest for years after diagnosis of Hep B. Without the proper resources, patients are left crossing their fingers and hoping their diseases stay at bay for as long as possible.

At the Prescription Assistance Program, we’re teaching these patients to hope for something greater. We’re providing people with a service designed to help those who may not be able to help themselves. Is the patient not eligible for one of our programs? No problem. We can provide them with substantial coupons or refer them to other resources available through the Health Center. Either way, I feel confident knowing I can lend a helping hand to every patient who walks through my door.