Being diagnosed with an illness can be a stressful time in anyone’s life, especially so if you have high insurance costs and are already strapped for cash. However, there’s a nonprofit organization located right here on Cape Ann that aims to help out those who need assistance for their medications and more.

I sat down with Dr. Rich Sagall, the founder of local nonprofit NeedyMeds, to ask a few questions about the organization’s programs and background. The office is bustling and inviting, featuring a team of researchers, offices, and a small call center.

Dr Sagall had the idea for NeedyMeds while he was honing his HTML skills and making websites in the mid-1990s. He talked to many patients at his family medicine practice in Bangor, Maine struggling to pay for their medication, and decided to compile a list of programs that helped such patients with his newfound internet publishing skills. In 1997, partnering with his colleague Libby Overly, MSW, MEd, NeedyMeds was born. The company moved to Philadelphia, and then in 2006, Sagall relocated the company to Gloucester to be closer to family.

NeedyMeds’ website has grown exponentially since his initial launch, and offers a comprehensive list of assistance for medical issues of all kinds to the 16,000 unique daily users that visit the site. The main focus of the website is to connect website visitors to a Patient Assistance Program, or PAP. A PAP is typically a program that is run by a pharmaceutical company. Its purpose is to give free medication to those who can’t afford to pay for it, even if their insurance pitches in.  

NeedyMeds has researchers that work with pharmaceutical companies to find new assistance programs, existing programs that have been modified, and document when programs end. Each year, billions in free drugs are given away through these types of programs. The top medication types that Dr. Sagall has seen be requested through assistance programs are pain medications, and conversely, medications that help patients wean themselves off pain medications.

NeedyMeds also compiles information on over 15,000 low-cost, no-cost, or sliding scale clinics across the country, as well as camps and retreats that center around a diagnosis - such as specialized summer camps meant for children with Asperger’s, residential summer camps for children with diabetes, and other medical conditions. Consumers can also find information on labs and testing facilities that will provide necessary medical tests at a reduced rate, as well as a safe needle disposal program that the organization runs.

Since NeedyMeds merely aggregates data for assistance programs, there’s no signup process required to use the website and the information can be found anonymously to protect private health data. There is no cost for consumers to use the website. NeedyMeds covers their costs through donations, grants, website advertisements, syndication of their compiled data, and with the sale of their PAPTracker software, which designed to help patient access programs reach out to prospective applicants and track usage of the programs.

The NeedyMeds call center receives, on average, 6,000 calls per month. The representatives are there to help patients not only find a PAP, but also help them through the application process. A large portion of the company’s mission is not only finding the programs, but making sure consumers understand how to get the most out of them - with the help of not only live representatives but also free monthly webinars, as well as self-paced Patient Assistance Resource Education courses and tutorials.

In addition to information on locating existing medical services, NeedyMeds offers a drug discount card which allows anyone with the card to save up to 80% off the cash price of their prescriptions if they lack insurance. The card is free to get and doesn’t require registration, and is anonymous - your purchases aren’t tracked. It’s accepted at over 63,000 pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS on Main Street in Gloucester. Dr. Sagall stated that he believes the distribution of the discount card has been NeedyMeds’ most successful program for residents of Cape Ann so far, saving over half a million dollars in drug costs. .

While the card can’t be combined with health insurance plans, those without can save anywhere from pennies to dollars on their medications.The cards can be used by anyone, as there are no age, residency, or income restrictions. It doesn’t expire, and can be used as often as needed. You can even share the card with friends and family. The card has saved patients a whopping $163 million since its inception!

The NeedyMeds website also gives patients access to “copay cards”, which help to reduce the patient’s cost of a drug that is covered by insurance, but has a high copay. There are many different copay card programs that require registration, but each program can partially or even completely cover the cost of a drug’s copayment. There are even coupons to be found for over the counter and prescription medications and medical supplies!

Dr. Sagall has noticed a change with the Affordable Care Act. “We’ve found that while more people have insurance, the insurance isn’t necessarily paying for the treatment or medication. We’ve found more patients using the drug discount cards.”

As far as recent trends, Sagall explains that he sees more patient empowerment and education as the future for NeedyMeds. They are compiling lists of outpatient imaging centers that have reasonable cash prices and the company is also in the beginning stages of launching a new website called HealthWeb Navigator. The site aims to help consumers wade through health information on the web and find what’s most medically accurate and reliable.  The medically-trained site reviewers evaluate websites for their thoroughness, factual accuracy, and ease of use. The organization has also recently launched HealFundr, a crowdfunding website that helps those facing large, unexpected medical bills reach out to their social circle for donations

It’s clear that NeedyMeds is a nonprofit that highlights the best of what Cape Ann has to offer. However, Dr. Sagall is on a mission to teach more locals about the company. “One of the largest obstacles we run into is awareness,” he states. “People don’t know we exist. And once they realize we exist, they don’t believe we give medications away for free.”  

For more information on programs, visit the NeedyMeds website or call their helpline at (800) 503-6897.