Cuts to health safety net providers in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed two-year budget could jeopardize medication assistance programs in the Dan River Region.

The budget proposes cutting second-year funding to the Virginia Community Healthcare Association, the Virginia Health Care Foundation and the Virginia Association of Free Clinics, in half or by $4.85 million total. The money is leveraged by statewide medication assistance programs, like the one at Piedmont Access to Health Services in Danville, to help thousands of uninsured patients get millions of dollars worth in free prescriptions every year.

“By cutting funding to the Virginia Health Care Foundation, PATHS medication assistance program will have to scale back on the numbers of patients it serves,” said PATHS CEO Kay Crane in an email. “These are life saving prescription medications that the uninsured will not be able to afford without assistance.”

In Southside, for every $1 of funding, the program helps get more than $100 in medications, said Rick Shinn, director of government affairs for Virginia Community Healthcare Association. The funding helps uninsured people get needed medicine while waiting to take part in one of three pharmacy company medication assistance programs.

“If they can find a place to get a better return on investment, I would like to hear about it,” Shinn said.

If people cannot get medicine to manage their chronic health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, they’ll end up with complications and in emergency rooms or, at worst, suffer “premature death,” Shinn said.

One day of care in the hospital can cost more than a whole year’s worth of medication, he added.

As the funding supports the on-site medication assistance coordinator, the cut may force community health centers and free clinics not to just cut a program but to stop having one, he added.

Because of the downturn in the economy and regional job loss, PATHS is seeing newly uninsured patients, especially in Martinsville and Henry County, where now 70 percent of that center’s patients are uninsured, Crane said.

“Without the funding we receive from the state, these patients may not receive the services they need, especially prescription medications,” she said.


(As published in the Danville Register & Bee, January 10, 2012)