Poor Kansans Get $20M in Free Meds

10 years ago, a staff pharmacist at OptumRx in Overland Park was tired of destroying shipments of perfectly good medications. The drugs service received shipments of unused medicine from nursing homes, hospitals, and pharmacies that sent back scuffed or dented packages. There had to be a way to put these unused medications to good use.

Saving Medications From Destruction

Tim Reel, the aforementioned pharmacist, asked his boss (who was a member of the Kansas State Board of Pharmacy) if they could donate the unused medications. This began a bill to loosen the laws on medication disposal and allow the donation of unused, unopened prescription drugs. On March 8th, leaders of OptumRx, United Healthcare, and Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer celebrated $20 million in donated drugs.

Kansas Unused Medication Donation Act

Passed in 2008, this act was the first of its kind in the entire United States. It allows adult care homes, mail service pharmacies, and medical care facilities to donate medication in the original packaging to 38 clinics and medical centers that serve low-income and uninsured Kansans. There are two very logical exclusions: no expired medications and no controlled substances (opioid painkillers).

Effecting Communities

The poverty cycle is a huge problem in the United States and one of the issues within it is access to healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies hike up drug prices so that only those who have the ability to pay for insurance every month can afford them. What about the thousands of people who are poor because they are too sick to work? Access to free medications can help the poor and underinsured reach a level where they are healthy enough to function in a job. Obviously, not all of the poverty cycle issues can be fixed with free medicine but it can help a large number work and be able to afford their own healthcare and medications.

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