As Congress considers Medicare beneficiaries' access to prescription drug coverage, there is increased interest in the range of options available to help vulnerable populations obtain access to needed medications. Patient assistance programs, offered voluntarily by drug companies, are generally designed to provide prescription drugs to low-income persons who lack drug coverage. These programs typically rely on health care providers' involvement with some or all stages of applying for and receiving drugs from the programs. Drug companies characterize their programs as a last-resort source of prescription drugs, and most programs are not designed to provide long-term prescription drug coverage. To comply with the programs' eligibility criteria, which are intended to target patients who need assistance, application procedures require information about the patient's financial and insurance status. The provider's role in the application process is significant, involving obtaining applications, completing all or part of the forms, and receiving and dispensing drugs.
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