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New prescription drug dispensary at Upstate brings hope to the uninsured and indigent

Millions of Americans without health insurance often go without life-saving prescriptions because they can’t afford them.

Now, for the uninsured and indigent in Onondaga there’s hope—The Dispensary of Hope.

Eligibility to participate in the Upstate’s medication access program is based on the annual published Federal Poverty rates.  According to the program website, applicants must be at or below 300 percent of Federal Poverty Guideline and have no prescription insurance.

The program starts July 24, and is for any Onondaga County resident who is uninsured and meets income eligibility.

Upstate’s Outpatient Pharmacy at Community Hospital, located at 5000 West Seneca Turnpike, is now receiving medication from Dispensary of Hope, a national non-profit drug distributor that takes billions of doses of excess drugs that would have otherwise been destroyed and disseminates them to nonprofit pharmacies and clinics.

Available medications include those to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stomach ulcers, and more. Most notably this program includes insulin, which constantly makes headlines for its high cost, up to $300 per vial.

“This program is community-changing,” said Eric Balotin, Upstate’s director of Retail/Specialty Pharmacy Services. “It fits the mission of what Upstate is all about—improving the health of the community we serve.

“Our ambulatory clinics and hospital see patients who are unable to afford medications, like insulin. Often patients who need multiple medicines will only purchase medications for the symptoms they recognize, which can lead to more health problems in the future,” Balotin said. “High blood pressure left untreated can cause kidney problems, heart problems and other complications.”

More than 30 million people in the United States are uninsured. In Central New York, a 2019 study by the United Hospital Fund and the Health Foundation of Western & Central New York shows that as many as 50,000 people are uninsured, more than 17,000 in Onondaga County alone. In addition, Syracuse has the highest child poverty rate in the country among large cities. Syracuse is also a sanctuary city for refugees, many of whom may not be insured.

“The Dispensary of Hope Program program is extremely helpful to provide access to important, life-saving medications, such as anti-thrombotic medications, to patients who would not otherwise have access,” said Meaghan Murphy, Upstate’s ambulatory care pharmacy coordinator.

“The program also aids health care providers,” Murphy continued. “A lack of insurance can lead to medication being prescribed based on cost and access, rather than the optimal medication regimen based on patient-specific factors.

“The Dispensary of Hope helps us provide a wide array of medications to our uninsured patients, allowing patients and providers access to implement first-line medication options for patients to continue to get the best care,” she said.

Balotin said Upstate already offers financial assistance to anyone who has a co-pay of more than $20 and uses the Upstate pharmacy. Over the past five years, the program has given almost $5 million in aid for prescription medications.

He said that Upstate wanted to offer financial assistance to the uninsured as well and that laid the groundwork for our participation in the Dispensary for Hope.

The idea for Dispensary of Hope started in Nashville, Tenn. in 2003 when one doctor worked with the local medical community to donate unused samples from their practices to free clinics and pharmacies. A few years later that grew into a national business model that would aggregate medication from all over the country to distribute. Today, the Dispensary of Hope accepts its inventory directly from manufacturers and distributors who donate it.

Upstate’s Dispensary of Hope is the first such program in the state outside of New York City, which currently has five. Upstate will pay an annual fee to receive unlimited access and shipping to all the drugs available.

Drugs from the program will only be available from the Outpatient Pharmacy at Community, as inventory must be managed and tracked separately.

Interested participants simply need to send their prescriptions to the pharmacy, where the pharmacy team will check for eligibility (income and insurance status). If eligible, patients will be enrolled in the program. Current cash customers of the pharmacy will be checked for eligibility.

For more information, email [email protected].

Caption: From left, Meaghan Murphy, Upstate’s ambulatory care pharmacy coordinator and Eric Balotin, Upstate’s director of Retail/Specialty Pharmacy Services, are leading Upstate's medication access program.