'We Need More Affordable Healthcare In This Country': Pharmacy Tries To Fill Gap In Coverage

May 15, 2020

Judy Friedman lost her employer-provided health care on April 1 after she was furloughed.

She tried searching for coupons and other discounts to help cover her daily prescriptions for blood sugar medicine, but she would still have to find a way to come up with $500 to cover the cost.

"If I were able to talk to politicians and (the) government, I would certainly stress that we need more affordable health care in this country," she says.

Friedman isn't alone in her plight.

Saint Vincent de Paul's charitable pharmacy is reporting a 14-year record high of people relying on them to fill their prescriptions for free.

According to Ohio's Job and Family Services, the unemployment rate in the Buckeye state is currently above the nation's average.

A drop in state revenue due to COVID-19 has Ohio officials working out the details of what a $211 million Medicaid cut will look like. In early May, Governor Mike DeWine said making cuts to the largest parts of the budget now would save the state from larger cuts in the future.

Saint Vincent de Paul's pharmacies in Southwest Ohio are stepping in to get people who are uninsured or under insured the medication they need. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, the Ohio drug repository program and local medical practices donate medicine, which the organization then gives away for free.

Pharmacy Director Mike Espel says there has been a sharp increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the 2008 recession. "The pharmacy in the second week of March filled 6,951 prescriptions and that was 800 more than we've ever filled before," he says, adding April surpassed that record.

Saint Vincent de Paul is bracing itself for a long-term increase in need as the pandemic continues to impact the economy.

The organization had to close its thrift stores on March 19, which is one way the nonprofit organization generates money for services like the pharmacy. "The pharmacy does an excellent job leveraging in-kind resources – both donated medication and volunteer pharmacists – but still relies on the support from thrift stores to help cover its operational expenses," Director of Development Claire Louby says. She says although thrift stores are reopening this week, they're looking for additional resources to support their social services.

The organization is working to ensure it has financial reserves in case an increase in demand peaks in upcoming months.