As millions lose their jobs—and insurance—Bristol Myers, Eli Lilly expand patient assistance

The hotel industry has struggled with a growing pool of open positions and high turnover as the U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 4 percent.
The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving many people without work, and two drugmakers are expanding access programs in response. (Getty Images/artisteer)

Aside from its devastating health consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic has left millions of Americans without work—and therefore without health insurance. Now, two Big Pharmas are expanding their assistance programs to help patients stay on their meds.

Eli Lilly and Bristol Myers Squibb on Tuesday rolled out new plans to offer drugs at low cost or even for free. 

RELATED: Lilly ad campaign in U.S. newspapers offers diabetes med help for patients affected by COVID-19 shutdowns 

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Bristol Myers is offering free immediate access to any of its branded drugs for patients who’ve recently lost employment and health insurance. The program also includes vouchers for continued care for several self-administered drugs.

BMS CEO Giovanni Caforio said in a statement that patients are facing "unprecedented financial challenges" and that it's "important" they can stay on their medicines.

Starting today, Lilly is offering insulin for $35 per month regardless of whether patients have commercial insurance. The program doesn't apply to seniors with Medicare Part D insurance due to federal guidelines, but Lilly said they might qualify for another program.

The drugmaker recently placed ads in top U.S. newspapers detailing its insulin affordability programs, but this program represents a new option for patients. 

"Too many people in the U.S. have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 crisis, and we want to make sure no one goes without their Lilly insulin," Lilly Diabetes President Mike Mason said in a statement. 

Last year, Lilly's insulin affordability programs helped up to 20,000 patients per month, a spokeswoman said. Following the recent newspaper ads on Monday, March 30, the company saw a 91% jump in call volumes compared with the prior Monday.

As U.S. health officials work to clamp down on the spread of the novel coronavirus, massive social distancing efforts have hit businesses hard, forcing mass layoffs. It remains to be seen how the economy will recover when people are allowed to return to work, but the drug companies are stepping in to provide a little relief for patients.

Over the last two weeks, nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, and experts believe the number will continue to grow in the coming weeks. 

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