UNC Health Care has a Pharmacy Assistance Program (PAP) that provides financial assistance to uninsured patients in North Carolina who need prescription medications. Despite significant investment in the program, little is known about the patients accessing it or the specific health care services they use. Our objectives were to describe the PAP population, to examine their use of prescription medications and health services, and to characterize changes in prescription medication use and expenditures from 2009 through 2011. We used a repeated cross-sectional study design, merging prescription claims with health records from Carolina Data Warehouse for Health, to measure use of prescription medications and use of inpatient, outpatient, and emergency department care by PAP participants. Prescription claims were grouped into therapeutic categories. We generated descriptive statistics for key variables to examine health service utilization from 2009 through 2011. From 2009 through 2011, PAP served 7,180 patients from 81 counties in North Carolina. PAP users received a mean of 23 prescriptions, at an average cost of $754 per recipient per year. An average of $2.93 million per year was spent on the program, with an 8% rise in spending from 2009 to 2011. Inpatient care and emergency department care were utilized by 30% and 31% of PAP users, respectively, and there was minimal change in these rates over 3 years. Data were limited to medications dispensed through PAP and to health services provided by UNC Health Care. With the state's decision to not expand Medicaid, PAP will continue to be an important resource for North Carolina's low income citizens.
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