Be dubious about drug companies that hire celebrities to promote “discounts”


The ‘Help is Here Express’ bus tour featuring celebrity talk show host Montel Williams visited Sabathani Community Center Wednesday, April 30, to allegedly help uninsured, low-income Minnesotans access information on hundreds of Prescription Assistance Programs (PAPs), mostly sponsored by drug companies, that provide discount prescription medicines.

The bus tour is part of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA,, a nationwide effort sponsored by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, the corporate drug industry’s primary trade group, raising awareness of patient assistance programs.

Patients seeking lower cost medications should exercise caution when considering these PAPs. The card programs aim to get people to take expensive brand name medications at a 10 to 20 percent discount, when an inexpensive generic drug is often available. In many cases, you may be able to save that much just by comparing prices at pharmacies. Also, you are unlikely to see a comparison of one PAP’s prices to another. The paperwork can be very tedious proving you are uninsured and eligible for the program based on your income (up to 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline) and your assets, the latter of which, however, can easily disqualify you. Doctors’ offices, and pharmacies, already fed up with paperwork, may be very reluctant to help you fill out onerous forms.

I would recommend two better alternatives. One, a good clinical pharmacist, myself included, can save patients more money than any discount program by evaluating your prescription drugs for costs, and also for safety and effectiveness. Oftentimes, drugs are not necessary, or even harmful, and should be discontinued. Secondly, you can save 30 to 80 percent by getting Canadian mail order prescriptions ( It goes without saying that drug companies are highly profit-driven, and will pay off celebrities to make us think they are operating in our interests.