How much are you willing to pay for that free medicine?

Thursday, June 08, 2006 at 02:35 PM

Most of the major drug companies now have some form of program which allows poor people to obtain certain drugs free.  This being the land of the middleman and hype, however, some clever people have figured out a way to piggyback on those free programs and turn a profit--by charging the poor not for the free medicine itself, but for "help" in identifying the available programs and completing the paperwork.

One such business is "My Free Medicine" (.com, of course).  According to the Louisville, KY Better Business Bureau:

According to the report at Colton BBB ( this company's business is selling information to obtain free medicine through various programs.

Complainants allege after sending the required registration fee of $95.00 to $195, they receive nothing from the company, or experience difficulty contacting the company regarding delivery status. One complainant contends the company deemed her ineligible, due to set income requirements. The customer claims set income requirements were not disclosed prior to registering.

The company responds to some complaints by delivering the packages or issuing refunds. A few customers state refunds are not received, or the information provided was only for two out of the five medicines promised.

On December 28, 2004, the Better Business Bureau wrote to this company and requested substantiation for advertising claims the company uses on their website. Specifically, we asked the company to explain their claim that customers receive medicine for free; when in fact, they charge the customer $33 per month. We also challenged their "money back guarantee," as it appears from complaint allegations that consumers are not receiving refunds when requested. To date, the company has failed to provide the requested information.

Further, in Sept. of 2005:

The US Federal Trade Commission, (FTC)(Plaintiff) filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction and other relief pursuant to section 13(b) of FTC Act 15 U.S.C. 53 (b) FTC Seeking and was granted against MFM (My Free Medicine) and CEO Geoffery Hasler (Defendants), a temporary restraining order with asset freeze and order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be issued.. was temporarily restrained and enjoined from the following Prohibited Practices:

1.Misrepesenting that consumers are eligible or pre-approved to receive prescription medications for free

2. Misrepresenting that consumer prescription medications are available for free through the MFM program

3.Misrepresenting that Defendants (MFM) deal directly with pharmaceutical companies or have arrangements with same, or the government, to provide free prescription medications, or that Defendants provide free medications directly to registered consumers or their doctors.

  1. Misrepresenting that consumers who pay a fee for the MFM program will receive their prescription medications.

  2. Misrepresenting their refund policy

  3. Making any material misrepresentation to consumers without first having a reasonable basis for the claim.

In addition, an "Asset Freeze" of MFM was ordered by the Court which temporarily restrained and enjoined MFM from "transferring, converting, encumbering, selling, concealing…any funds, real or personal property, accounts, contracts, shares of stock...etc.owned by the Defendants.

Just two days ago ABC profiled the endlessly "entrepreneurial" My Free Medicine:

As if the 45 million Americans without health insurance don't have enough trouble, many of them may be prime targets for what some critics describe as a free medicine scam.

In its ads, a company called My Free Medicine claims it can help people get medications like Advair, Glaxo SmithKline's asthma drug, at no cost.

My Free Medicine is not affiliated with any drug company, though, and it's not a patient-assistance program. Patient-assistance programs are established by drug companies to provide those who qualify with free medicine. The Louisville, Ky.-based company also doesn't directly provide any medicine, free or otherwise.

"This one squarely fits my definition of a scam," said Charlie Mattingly, president of the Louisville Better Business Bureau.

My Free Medicine claims that for a fee -- $200 every six months -- it helps people take part in drug companies' free medicine programs, and that it will provide the right forms and help in filling them out so that anyone who pays the fee can get needed medications. The company says it's like hiring an expert to do your tax return.

The Federal Trade Commission has sued the firm, however, claiming it is simply selling blank application forms, which are available directly from the drug companies for free....

I did a little web poking and quickly found another company that appears to provide the same dubious service, also at a price.  The Medicine Bridge charges "$35 to help you through the paperwork for Free Medications ...given away through US Pharmaceutical Patient Assistance Programs."  There's also a "small monthly fee" which I could not ascertain; the link to the info was dead.

At the site above, you find, inter alia:

Drug Manufacturers are now giving away free medications to needy patients. The top 30 pharmaceutical companies generously make FREE drugs available to those who have a hardship.  However, there is a catch the Prescription Assistance Program applications and requirements are so long and difficult in most cases that most people get discouraged and give up on these programs.  This makes it one of the best kept secrets because of the limited number of people with the knowledge and patience to keep up with the lenghty (sic) paperwork on their own.

Can anyone say "conscience?"  Spell it?  Or, better yet, exhibit one?