Sometimes—on very rare occasions—when something sounds too good to be true, it actually isn’t. Some 51,000 people found that out in the first quarter of this year alone, through the efforts of RxOutreach, Inc.

One such person was Jane Conner. Two years ago, her husband, a part-time pastor, was laid off from his full-time job and they lost their health insurance. Though they were used to giving to others in need, the couple found themselves requiring assistance to pay for the medications Conner used to treat her heart condition and diabetes. When she called Rx Outreach and was told she could receive the medications for only $20, she didn’t truly believe it. When the medications arrived, she broke down and cried.

It’s because of the many calls and letters from people like the Conners that the staff knows they’re on the right track, says Rx Outreach president Michael Holmes. The nonprofit was formed in 2010, when it spun off from Express Scripts. To date, it has saved 176,000 patients more than $220 million by providing reduced-price medications to people making less than 300 percent of the federal poverty rate. “That’s pretty liberal, because the price of these medications can be high,” Holmes notes.

For example, the Alzheimer’s drug Aricept typically costs $1,370 per month without insurance. Rx Outreach is able to provide it to clients for only $25, Holmes says. Likewise, it provides hand-held diabetes testing units for free, along with a starter pack of testing strips. The replacement strips can be purchased for $15 for a box of 50. The price reductions can make a huge difference to patients, because so many of these medications are going to people with chronic conditions. “It’s a hand up, as opposed to a handout,” Holmes says. “So many nonprofits can’t be sustained, and we want to be here to help people for the long-term. Also, many people come to us even when they are still eligible for free patient assistance programs. They tell us they feel better about paying something for the medications.”

The nonprofit purchases 80 percent of its medications, while the other 20 percent is donated, Holmes says. “We are usually able to get a good rate when we explain our mission. They offer to give the medications for free or at a low price.” And all of the equipment needed for sorting, bottling, packaging and shipping the prescription medications was donated by Express Scripts when the nonprofit was formed.

Despite the health-care overhaul, Holmes says that the prescription services provided by RxOutreach still will be needed for a long time. “There are 37 million people in this country without medical insurance,” he says. “And even if Medicaid expansion happened in all 50 states, the estimates are that 20 to 30 million people still wouldn’t have it.” The need is astonishing: “Sometimes, we see our patient advocates crying because they know exactly what our patients are going through,” Holmes says. “We recently had an advocate who wanted to pay out of her pocket for the FedEx shipping so that the patient could receive their medication faster. We said, Of course, we will do the FedEx for them. But you’re not going to pay for it. So many of these people are in pain every day.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Tom Manenti

Tom Manenti became involved in Rx Outreach before it was even fully formed. President Michael Holmes originally approached him about serving on the board prior to the group’s 501c3 designation. Today Manenti serves as the board chair, as well as chair of the compensation committee.

“The thing that attracted me most is that this wasn’t simply welfare,” says Manenti, who is the chair and CEO of MiTek. “It’s more of an assistance program, so potential clients of Rx Outreach need to qualify based on income; and if so, we can provide the prescription drugs at a far reduced amount. The patient does pay something, and they feel better that they are paying, but they don’t have to make the decision between paying the rent and buying their medication. The costs without insurance can run thousands of dollars a month, based on the level of treatment and the type of sickness, and people shouldn’t have to make that literal life-or-death choice because of an income situation.”

Throughout his involvement with the organization, Manenti says he has been continually impressed by the professionalism and dedication of the Rx Outreach’s 85 employees. “It’s always amazing to me, for a relatively small staff, the major type of things they’re able to implement. Just the pharmacy alone is not a small thing to run.”

Manenti adds that he hopes more dedicated professionals and volunteers will come to the nonprofit’s aid. “When I think about organizations like Rx Outreach, so many times we hear the term ‘raising awareness.’ We need more than just raising awareness—awareness is important, but we also need hands and feet and the finances to be able to bring this kind of program to the marketplace. So to the extent that people can reach out—whether it’s a monetary contribution or some influence in the pharmaceutical industry to be able to provide low-cost or even donated drugs to Rx Outreach—we will help advance this program for the many people who are still going to require this, even under the Affordable Care Act implementation.”

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