The impact of economic uncertainty on patient access to medicines

By Dane Schroeder, Group Account Director, McCann Health Managed Markets

Addressing patient financial challenges

As the United States experiences continued fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented inflation and a looming recession, medication affordability issues are being exacerbated, which can lead to negative effects on patient adherence and outcomes.

Most pharmaceutical manufacturers offer co-pay and/or free drug programs, and many expanded them during the COVID-19 pandemic to manage the sudden large influx of patients in need. However, patient and provider awareness and utilization of these programs is often low. Most patients learn about financial assistance through their physicians or pharmacies, and as many providers reduced their contact with patients, it became difficult to raise awareness during the pandemic.

An ongoing decrease in provider bandwidth and increase in provider burnout continues to be felt across the health care landscape. Providers are stretched thin, with too many responsibilities and too little support, reducing the amount of time they are able to spend with patients and provide this necessary education.

Other factors may impede uptake of financial relief programs. Often, healthcare providers only discuss financial assistance if patients raise a concern about affordability— and patients are more likely to abandon their prescriptions or ask for less expensive alternatives than to ask for help.1

Additionally, many people—both patients and providers alike—believe that financial assistance programs are only for underserved communities and that other people need help more than they do.

How do we ensure patients can start and stay on the medicines they need, even if they can no longer afford to pay for them? Thinking differently about patient outreach and engagement is key to answering this question.

Escalate communications about financial assistance programs and relevant updates

  • Use direct-to-patient and/or direct-to-consumer communication to expand patients’ awareness of programs
  • Consider expansion of financial assistance offerings to address the impact of current events on patients (eg, extending deadlines and length of time for assistance, considering current income rather than the previous year)
  • Consider simplifying enrollment, tracking, and other processes for getting assistance, since these tasks will fall upon patients more than usual due to limited provider capabilities
  • Although provider outreach has decreased at this time, ensure that all communications that do occur put financial assistance messaging at the forefront

Shift patients’ and providers’ expectations of who needs financial assistance

  • Remind providers to not make assumptions about who needs financial help and who doesn’t 
  • Provide patient materials, such as email templates or postcards, so providers can reach out to all patients to identify those in need and tell them about available financial assistance options
  • Encourage providers to ask patients at every point of contact if they are still able to afford their prescriptions and raise awareness of assistance

Activate all stakeholders

  • Tap into an expanded network to relay financial assistance education to patients through a wider range of channels, such as pharmacies, social workers, case managers, advocacy groups, or community outreach organizations

Infuse empathy into your communications

  • Understand that people process information differently when under stress or in heightened emotional states and may have a reduced ability to focus or remember information
  • Evaluate your communications to ensure the tone is reassuring and supportive, acknowledging how current events may be affecting patients
  • Provide credible solutions and simple, actionable recommendations to help patients feel empowered to move forward and ask for help

How McCann Health can help

At McCann Health Managed Markets, we have robust experience in patient financial assistance program strategy, implementation, and communication. We can help you evolve your programs and materials for the current environment—and beyond—to reach patients and stakeholders across all channels in an impactful and cost-effective manner.

Because 90% of our choices are driven by emotion2, it is always important to strike the right tone when talking to patients and providers. This is especially imperative in the current environment, considering the crisis communication principles outlined above.

Our McCann Health Social Sciences proprietary empathy audits use data-driven techniques to measure emotion within communications and help affect decisions in a positive manner, providing recommendations to improve the text and tone of your communications. Additionally, our ARULE™ framework, validated in partnership with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, uses academically rigorous processes of health literacy to ensure materials are engaging and easy to understand and act upon.


Kaiser Family Foundation/LA Times Survey of Adults with Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance

2 How Emotion Drives Brand Choices and Decisions