The Assistance Fund helps the underinsured population acquire costly medications
Within the first 36 months of its existence, The Assistance Fund raised nearly $90 million. Projections for 2013 alone should top $100 million.
For more information, visit www.AssistFund.org.
“Our message is starting to resonate and stick,” said Edward Hensley, who co-founded the Orlando, Fla.-based non-profit organization with Jeff Spafford in November 2009 to help the critically and chronically ill underinsured access advanced therapies. “The way we care for all our patients from a financial perspective, and how quickly we get them on therapy, is being noticed.”
Hensley and Spafford both manage the executive director post for The Assistance Fund, which serves the United States and Puerto Rico with a 5-person crew, that fields an average of 1,200 patient calls weekly, answering in an average of 22 seconds.
Last May, The Assistance Fund received a favorable Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Advisory Opinion, allowing the organization to help uninsured patients locate health insurance and to assist underinsured patients with premium costs.
“Very importantly, 91 percent of all donations go directly to our patients,” said Hensley, who was managing with Spafford the Florida-based Advanced Care Scripts (ACS), when they met a patient who had bone marrow cancer. Her doctor had prescribed a medication that might keep the disease at bay for years, but she didn’t want to tell her husband about the drug because they couldn’t afford the $4,000 monthly medication.
“It broke our hearts,” Hensley recalled.
A year after they sold ACS, Hensley, a native Texan, decided to remain in Orlando to help Spafford lead The Assistance Fund.
“We have a niche program,” Hensley said. “The uninsured have programs for free products for high-cost therapies, so our focus is on the under-insured. Medications for critical and chronic illnesses can be dauntingly expensive. Many patients are on multiple drugs. Take multiple sclerosis, for example. It can average $4,000 a month for MS medications. Cystic fibrosis can cost nearly $100,000 a month. If we can cover their most expensive drug, it allows them to buy the generic drugs they also need.”
The average patient, overwhelmingly female (76 percent), comes from a 2-person household with an annual income of roughly $31,360. The Assistance Fund is able to get new patients on needed drugs the same or next day.
“If you’re newly diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, or an end-stage illness, the last thing you want is to worry about finances, or wait two or three weeks for assistance,” he said. “The day a patient calls in to ask for help, we conditionally approve them and wait for a family member to send their tax statements and other financial information required for financial assistance.”
The top 10 states receiving assistance include Florida, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, and Washington.
“One of our largest funds is for MS patients,” said Hensley. “States like Washington, Minnesota, and New York have the highest populations of MS.”
Last April, The Assistance Fund launched eEnroll, an online application for patients, and now has a mobile app. Last September, the fund hosted its inaugural fundraising gala, Carnavalia, which sold out three months in advance.
“The Assistance Fund has absolutely exceeded our greatest expectation,” said Hensley, noting that a very small percentage of funds are derived through grants. Ninety percent of funding comes from the pharmaceutical industry. “That’s great because health coverage has completely changed for Americans. In a sluggish economy like this, everyone knows someone who’s battled with some chronic or life-threatening illness. My sister has MS, and I’ve seen her struggle. She’s underinsured. We’ve been able to actually make inroads. We’re extremely fortunate to be able to help improve the quality of life for the patients.”