When discussing why patients do not take their prescribed medications, former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop bluntly stated, “ Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” While Koop’s advice seems simple, nonadherence leads to about 125,000 deaths annually and $ 300 billion in additional U. S. health care spending. A study by CVS Caremark found that 62 percent of pharmacists believe that the high cost of prescriptions is the biggest reason why patients fail to take their medications. This national problem affects Mainers as well, due the state’s aging population, increased poverty, and limited access to health insurance.

In 2005, a task force of local hospitals, medical providers, and community service agencies came together to address these issues. Recognizing that access to affordable prescription medication was an issue in the MidCoast, the group recommended that the Community Prescription Assistance Program be created at the Oasis Free Clinics. As the community’s only clinic with the sole purpose of providing free care to those in need, Oasis has been connecting members of the community with free, lifesaving medications ever since.

To access Oasis’ free medical and dental services, you must be 18-64, have no health insurance and a low income, and live in Freeport, Durham, Brunswick, Harpswell and the Islands, or Sagadahoc County. Eligibility for CPAP, however, is more flexible. Moreover, CPAP can help people over 65 with Medicare Part D when they reach the “ donut hole,” the time when their insurance can no longer help pay for their prescriptions for a significant period of time. Since its founding in 2005, CPAP has helped people in our community get over $10 million in free medications. The majority of prescriptions provided include inhalers, blood thinners, insulins, and mental health medications.

CPAP is successful due to our dedicated, compassionate, and detail-oriented coordinator, Kimberly Dodge. While pharmaceutical companies have free programs for individuals with limited insurance coverage and those in poverty, these programs are often very difficult to navigate. Kim works with patients and local healthcare providers to identify if there is a free program for their medications, helps individuals fill out their paperwork, and works with the pharmaceutical companies on patient’s behalf. Once approved, medications are sent to the patient’s provider. Kim assists patients after this process to help them re-apply for refills and manage any difficulties that come up. She notes that her favorite part of her job is helping individuals who have worked all their lives but need help because of their fixed income. “It’s terrible when people have to choose between working with an illness, eating, paying bills, and buying their medications,” says Kim.

Many people who use CPAP do so as their last means of hope. One of CPAP’s first clients was a 51-year-old woman, raising her 12-year-old grandchild on a $900 monthly salary. She had advanced diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression. Her medications cost her $ 481.96 a month — more than half of her monthly income.

She was in the impossible position of having to choose between her health and caring for her grandchild. After being denied twice for MaineCare, her medical provider urged her to call CPAP.

The CPAP coordinator helped get most of her medications for free. Another young patient came to Oasis after suffering traumatic injuries in a car accident. CPAP helped her get the medications she needed for seizures and memory loss caused by the accident. These patient stories are all too common as poverty and raising medical costs continue to plague our community, state and nation. CPAP complements Oasis’s mission as it helps ensure that lifesaving medications do not become luxury items for the individuals we serve.

The growing number of people older than 60 in our community, combined with the high increases in the cost of prescription medication, means that the need for CPAP is increasing. After receiving a generous grant from the Maine Women’s Giving Tree, Kim, along with our executive director, Anita Ruff, have expanded community outreach to let more individuals know about how CPAP can help them. Our goal is to serve more people in order to create a healthier community and eliminate the need for people to choose between medications and groceries.

To learn more about CPAP or Oasis’s other services, visit website at OasisFreeClinics.org or call (207) 721-9277.

Eskedar Girmash is a Maine Community Fellow at Oasis Free Clinics. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about our work in our community.

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