By Kara Witherow, Editor
Millions of Americans regularly have to choose between basic necessities and their medications: buy food or heart medication? Pay the rent or purchase insulin? A recent Gallup poll shows that nearly 18 million Americans can’t afford at least one prescription medication in a three-month span.
Like Eliquis, a widely prescribed medication that helps lower the risk of stroke and blood clots and costs about $600 a month. Or Ozempic, a diabetes medication that costs nearly $900 each month.
That’s why the Lawson Neel MedBank is so critical to southwest Georgia residents, said executive director Lisa Knapp.
Begun nearly 20 years ago by members of a Thomasville First United Methodist Church Sunday school class that bears the same name, the Lawson Neel MedBank’s mission is to provide medicine to those who need it but can’t afford it.
“It’s really about improving the quality of life for our community,” said Knapp, who gets choked up talking about her work and the clients she serves. “We hear such sad, sad stories sometimes. People are literally having to choose between medicine and food or not having a place to live and sleeping on a relative’s couch so they can afford to buy their medicine.”
Incorporated in 2001 and opened in February 2002, Lawson Neel MedBank serves as a facilitator between patients, doctors, and the pharmaceutical companies that furnish free medications through their Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs). Medical providers can refer patients to the MedBank or patients can refer themselves.
Knapp and her team use their years of expertise to navigate the cumbersome and confusing world of drug company PAPs.
“Those programs are set up for the patient to do themselves, but it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds,” Knapp said. “We’ve been doing this for 19 years and we know all the ins and outs and how to get the applications approved.”
Since its inception in 2002, the Lawson Neel MedBank has helped more than 5,500 clients receive more than $25 million in medications. Last year alone they refilled more than $813,000 worth of medications.
The Lawson Neel MedBank refills about 200 medications each month, the majority of which are maintenance medicines for chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
The MedBank also refers clients to other programs and support agencies, like food banks, clothing closets, and other low-cost or free prescription programs. They’ve also begun gathering donated durable medical goods and equipment and giving them away to people who need them.
No fees are charged to clients or providers. The MedBank doesn’t receive any state or federal funding; all funding comes from individual donations, church donations, or grants from local foundations.
“We do this in response to God’s love for all persons,” Knapp said.
Faye Barnes, a member of Thomasville First UMC, has served as a MedBank board member for the past four years. She also volunteers weekly, helping clients refill their prescriptions.
The work the Lawson Neel MedBank does is important, she said.
“The patients would not be able to afford their medications without the free drug programs that are available and they wouldn’t be able to do all the paperwork themselves,” she said. “Helping others is part of what Christians do, and that’s what this does.”