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Americares Expands Access to Medication

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Katiri Zuluaga

Manager, State Initiatives

Americares Expands Access to Medication

October 30, 2017 | Treatment | Comments
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Improving access to medications that treat mental illness can save money and improve outcomes.

In 2012, 60 percent of uninsured Americans with a chronic condition skipped medication due to cost. Thirty-seven percent of Medicare enrollees were concerned about drug costs and 20 percent delayed filling prescriptions or skipped doses to save money. Nonadherence to psychotropic medications is common and cost is a key factor.

So, what happens when our clients can’t afford their prescriptions?

Patients skip doses, which makes treatment less effective and leads to greater costs. This is especially problematic given Americans living below the poverty line, who may have to skip doses due to finances, experience more severe, longer lasting mental illnesses and generally have worse treatment outcomes. Serious mental illness contributes to about $193.2 billion in lost earnings by Americans per year and the annual cost estimates for medication nonadherence range from $100 to $300 billion.

How can we get medications to people most in need?

Enter Americares and the National Council for Behavioral Health

Americares is a health-focused relief and development organization that responds to people affected by poverty or disaster with life-changing health programs, medicine and medical supplies. In 2015, Americares launched its Mental Health Initiative, which aims to expand mental health access to low-income individuals by donating medications to community behavioral health facilities. These donated medications are given to clients who cannot afford them.

The National Council partnered with Americares in 2016 to grow the Mental Health Initiative by finding out what providers and their patients need. The National Council, which represents more than 2,900 member organizations in the mental health and addiction field. We helped develop a survey to identify medication-related needs and attitudes on the Mental Health Initiative within our membership. We wanted to know who our members serve, the most commonly prescribed drugs and how donations impact their service delivery.

Who responded?

In total, 173 organizations representing 45 states responded. Eighty-six percent of respondents identified their organization as nonprofit or government, which makes them eligible for Americares distribution. Nearly all the respondents serve clients on Medicaid, Medicare or are dual-eligible.

Three-quarters of respondents reported that more than half of their clients earn less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $36,180 per year. For 45 percent of respondents, between 76 and 100 percent of their clients fall below the federal poverty line of $12,060 per year.

An overwhelming 80 percent of individuals served by respondents have difficulty accessing medications. On average, 72 percent of all clients served are prescribed psychotropic medications. The most frequently prescribed class of medications are antidepressants (51 percent), mood stabilizers (36 percent) and anti-anxiety medications (32 percent).

What do mental health and addiction providers need?

Organizations report they have the hardest time obtaining antipsychotics, followed by injectable medications and opioid antagonists, like naloxone and naltrexone. For organizations working with adolescents, it is even more difficult to obtain these classes of drugs. Across all classes of medication, the highest needs are:

  • Mood stabilizers used to treat bipolar disorder.
  • Treatments for opioid and alcohol use disorders.
  • Antipsychotics to treat schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Nearly half of respondents strongly agree that Americares product donations reduce costs for clients. Donations fill product gaps and improve staff effectiveness. Respondents said when cost is no longer a barrier, they can focus on treatment.

Now what?

Mental health and addiction providers need more medication resources to meet the demands of their clients with lower incomes. Donations from Americares can have a significant impact on outcomes for clients who cannot access medications due to financial constraints. Adherence to medication by individuals with serious mental illnesses, especially to psychotropic medications, has the potential to improve treatment outcomes and save money. Research indicates increasing access to medication increases adherence. Americares Mental Health Initiative is improving access and filling a critical need in the community.

As mental health and addictions providers, we need to continue to support Americares Mental Health Initiative and similar programs. Americares’ current goal is to provide $40 million worth of high-quality psychiatric medicine to 175 community mental health centers over the next three years. These donations will not only make treatment more effective for our clients, they will also save money.

Join the Americares network and request medications for your clinic.

Learn more about the Americares Mental Health Initiative.

Americares and Blink Health

Blink Health is an additional resource that provides access to low-cost medication when free medication is not available. Blink Health gives clinics and health centers the ability to purchase over 15,000 different prescription medications at discounted prices by negotiating with pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers and pharmaceutical companies to secure some of the lowest prices available.

Learn more about Blink Health.

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