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WV Rx program recognized on national level

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chip VanAlsburg wasn't sure what to do when he lost his job in 2009.

Until then he had health insurance to cover the expensive medication used to treat his leukemia.

But when the Internet startup he worked for cut his position in the wake of a soft economy, he faced the impossible challenge of paying $60,000 a year for the medicine that could keep him alive.

It's difficult enough facing mortality at a young age, said VanAlsburg, now 42. Not being able to afford medication that would give you a fighting chance to survive is even more difficult.

But with the help of a prescription drug program from West Virginia Health Right, VanAlsburg was able to get the medication he needed at no cost to him.

The West Virginia Rx program was one of 10 finalists for the 2012 Community Partnership Award from Mutual of America. The national award is presented to organizations with programs that "demonstrate new approaches to addressing significant social issues," and that can be replicated by other organizations.

"The program saves people's lives and helps fill in the gap," VanAlsburg said after speaking at a Wednesday event recognizing the program's achievements. "It's not just for low-income people it's also for the uninsured and underinsured. It's a great program that the legislature needs to continue to support."

VanAlsburg eventually found a job and regained health coverage but the program helped him pay for his medication in the meantime for six or seven months, he said.

Founded in 2008 under then-Gov. Joe Manchin's administration, the West Virginia Rx program is a charitable mail-order pharmacy that provides prescription drugs to state residents who are uninsured, underinsured or who make below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

"There have been 60,000 West Virginians enrolled since the inception, which is really good," said Pat White, executive director of Health Right. "It's dispensed $111 million worth of drugs since the inception. So it's a lot of medication that's going out and it goes out of the West Virginia Health Right pharmacy."

White said the program, partially funded by the state of West Virginia, is money well spent.

"The return on investment of state dollars into it is $177 for every one dollar of state funds," she said. "That's based on the $111 million in medications and how much the state through the governor's office has supported the program."

The program is funded both with public and private contributions.

However, the governor's office cut funding to the program by $60,000 beginning Jan. 1 and by $110,000 for next year, White said.

The West Virginia Health Care Authority, through the Department of Health and Human Resources, and Appalachian Power have helped to bridge those gaps, each contributing $50,000 to the program, White said. She continues to talk with the governor's office for next year's funding.

She said the West Virginia Rx program has been replicated in other parts of the country.

"It's national recognition for a program that's doing a lot of good for a lot of people," White said. "It's nice to be recognized for doing that."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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