Background: Prescription assistance programs (PAPs) are offered by pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide medications at no out-of-pocket cost to various categories of medically indigent patients. Some PAPs require only 1 application whereas others require as many as 4 applications per year per drug per patient, depending on the manufacturer's requirements. Objective: To measure the costs incurred by a medical clinic that provides chronic prescription medications via PAPs. Methods: This project was conducted in a free-standing, inner-city, Midwestern health clinic on the PAP application process for 1 representative drug for 32 pharmaceutical manufacturers that offered PAPs for drugs taken on a long-term basis for chronic conditions. Time and motion studies were conducted using a medical assistant with the greatest amount of PAP experience. Assessment of time-to-access and time-to-complete forms was performed outside of normal clinic business hours to avoid interruptions. Personnel time costs also included receipt and delivery of drug to the patient (drug distribution time), which were assessed during normal business hours for actual medications received for 10 patients and included the time required to notify the patient of the arrival of the drug and to dispense the medication to the patient. Supply costs for this PAP service included printing and copying costs. Submission costs associated with mailing or faxing the documents were determined and calculated using the price of materials only. Total application cost was calculated by adding the personnel time cost, supply cost, and submission cost. Annual PAP time was the time spent completing PAPs for 1 medication for 1 patient for 1 year. The time and resources required and the associated costs were aggregated separately for the pharmaceutical manufacturers that required 1, 2, or 4 applications per drug per patient per year. Results: The total average application cost for all 32 companies was $25.18 [SD, $17.23]. Personnel time costs accounted for half or more of the total application cost, regardless of submission mode. The time to complete the form for any PAP was 0:06:20 [SD, 0:05:03] minutes with a range from 0:03:01 to 0:34:22 minutes. Printing costs were $0.20 [SD, $0.10] and copying costs were $1.96 [SD, $0.21]. Average supply costs were $2.16 [SID, $0.23]. Faxing versus mailing PAPs saved $17.90 per application. Total annual clinic cost to assist patients in obtaining drugs through a PAP ranged from $10.42 per patient for a drug that requires 1 application per year (15 manufacturers, 47%) to $46.30 per patient for a drug in a PAP that requires 4 (re)applications per year (12 manufacturers, 38%). PAPs transmitted by mail required 0:49:18 [SD, 0:32:18] minutes, approximately 0:25:00 [SD, 0:21:00] minutes more than by fax (0:24:13 [SD, 0:11:32] minutes) or by Internet submissions (0:28:20 minutes), respectively. Conclusion: The number of PAP applications required per patient per medication annually has the greatest impact on clinic time and financial resources. Application submission method also influences the overall costs of providing this service in the clinical setting. Medical clinics should base their decision to provide a PAP application service to patients on the time and costs associated over the course of 1 year and not on the 1-time application cost.
- Medically indigent
- Pharmaceutical assistance program
- Primary care