Im referring to the Pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim and it’s patient assistance program called “BI Cares”
Tiotropium, or Spiriva as its known by most patients, is a long-acting anticholinergic (or muscarinic antagonist) bronchodilator, that up until 2016 was not recommended for asthma and was used primarily in the treatment of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Now approved for asthma, Tiotropium is considered a safe and very effective add- on maintenance medication for severe asthma as well. Long acting anticholinergic drugs like Tiotropium, work by relaxing the smooth muscles that surround the airways, but by a different mechanism than beta-agonist bronchodilators such as Salmeterol or Formoterol. Tiotropium also appears to have less side effects than long acting beta agonists. Tiotropium is not meant to replace fast acting rescue inhalers, such as Albuterol.
Like many others out there with severe or difficult to control asthma, Ive taken Spiriva for years and seemed to do well when I was on it. Unfortunately, in 2016, which ironically is when Spiriva was officially approved for the treatment of asthma, I lost my employer sponsored medical insurance and had to switch to a Medicare Prescription drug plan, also known as Medicare part D. My co-pay for Spiriva skyrocketed from $60 to $590 for a 90-day supply. I couldn’t afford it anymore and eventually I just stopped taking it. Now 4 years later with my lung disease not improving and having to eliminate drugs that were actually helping because I couldn’t afford them, just didn’t make sense. I had to find a different way to obtain these medications and that’s when I looked into the BI cares program for help with getting Spiriva.
At first I didn’t qualify because our annual household income, though not high by any means, exceeded the program’s limit. But in early 2020 with the advent of COVID, the massive job layoffs and loss of income that followed, including my partners, put us under the income threshold and I was approved. It took 7 months of sending corrected documents back and forth, but in mid December 2020, I received my first allotment of Spiriva from the BI cares program at no charge. So for the time being , or until our financial situation changes, I’ll be getting Spiriva in the Handi-haler form, for free. Thank you Boehringer!
Bottom line, asthma is an expensive disease. Most asthma medications, even with insurance, still cost a lot. For someone living on a fixed income, you often have to prioritize which medications you can do with or without. As a severe asthmatic I cant do without Albuterol, that’s a given. I have to have Albuterol or another quick acting bronchodilator with me at all times, or I run the risk of my airways spasming and completely closing up in a short span of time. That could lead to a 911 call or worse. So, no matter how much the drug costs, I have to have it. Thankfully, Albuterol in solution form, for use in a portable nebulizer, is covered by Medicare part B. So the co-pay for that form of the drug is fairly low. Albuterol MDIs (Metered Dose Inhalers) on the other hand are NOT covered under Medicare part B. However most Medicare part D prescription programs do cover Albuterol inhalers, though the co-pays are higher. Currently, my co pay for generic Albuterol MDIs is $30 per inhaler, but it’s less than $20.00 if I use an online coupon, such as good RX, so I use that method instead.
If you suffer from asthma or COPD and can’t afford your medications, there are lots of resources out there that can help. The problem is that the process can be somewhat of a hassle, not to mention time consuming. There’s often a lot of paperwork involved, which both you and your doctor have to fill out. If the information submitted isn’t incomplete, you’re back to square one. But as frustrating as the process might be, my advice is to not give up. The online health resource, Very Well Health has done a great job of listing all the big Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs for asthma medications on a single page. Check it out