By Alexa Milan, The Sanford Herald
Charlotte-based nonprofit N.C. MedAssist has sought to help North Carolina’s low-income, uninsured residents with their medical needs for the past 14 years, and now the organization is hitting the road to connect people across the state with its free pharmacy program.
Representatives from N.C. MedAssist will register eligible Sanford residents for the program from 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Thursday at New Endland AME Zion Church. Once they’re enrolled, participants will begin receiving their prescriptions in the mail free of charge.
“In North Carolina alone, there are more than 1.1 million low-income, uninsured people,” said Lori Giang, executive director of N.C. MedAssist. “That means there are 1.1 million people that qualify for the program but don’t know that they do. In Lee County alone, there are 11,000 uninsured.”
After serving Mecklenberg County exclusively for about 11 years, N.C. MedAssist expanded its free pharmacy program three years ago when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and the North Carolina Association of Free Clinics named the organization the central pharmacy for uninsured residents statewide. In addition to the grant, N.C. MedAssist also receives funding from the United Way and individual donations.
Giang said N.C. MedAssist representatives wanted to travel to each county to meet with eligible residents and explain the enrollment process. The organization contacted the North Carolina Council of Churches and expressed interest in partnering with faith-based organizations willing to host one-day enrollment programs. The Rev. Mechelle Myers of Sanford’s New Endland AME Zion Church received an e-mail from the Council about the initiative and was the first person to respond.
“I’ve heard over and over again, ‘If I didn’t have to pay for medicine, I’d be able to do more,'” Myers said. “They do sometimes have to choose between food and bills and paying for their medicines. Knowing that was a concern in my church and my community, I wanted to reach out to try to get them some help.”
Giang said N.C. MedAssist’s primary focus is serving low-income people who need access to medication for chronic diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. To qualify for the free pharmacy program, participants must be uninsured, have a written prescription from a doctor and have an income of less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, or less than $21,780 for an individual and less than $44,700 for a family of four.
On the enrollment day, eligible participants must bring proof of North Carolina residency, such as a driver’s license or current utility bill; proof of income, such as one month’s worth of pay stubs or last year’s tax return, and a written prescription from a doctor. Once enrolled, N.C. MedAssist will mail medications to participants within five days of receiving the written prescription. The organization reviews participants’ eligibility annually.
“On Thursday, they will be registering and evaluating those in the community that may qualify,” Myers said. “They’ll go over the paperwork and they’ll get them registered so they can begin to get assistance with their prescription medicines.”
Giang said she hoped N.C. MedAssist’s free pharmacy program would benefit North Carolina residents beyond assisting with their medical needs. Regular access to needed medications could help people who were once too sick to work get back into the job market, she said, as well as save taxpayer dollars by preventing uncompensated care costs at the hospital.
“We do this to keep people working,” Giang said. “If you’re not healthy, you can’t maintain a job. Someone with diabetes or hypertension can live a healthy life if they have ongoing access to their medication.”
Want to go?
What: N.C. MedAssist free pharmacy program enrollment
When: 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: New Endland AME Zion Church, 164 Farrell Road, Sanford
Eligibility: Program participants must be uninsured, have income of less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and have a written prescription from a doctor
What to bring: Proof of income, proof of North Carolina residency and a written prescription from a doctor
More information: 1-888-808-6631 or www.medassist.org