Marilou Niggemann and Rosie Miller are trying to get the word out that Assistance Fund, based in Orlando, exists and is ready to help underinsured patients pay for their costly medications. (Photo by Dave Raith).

ORLANDO – They have an office in Orlando, but serve people all over the country.
At the same time, Rosie Miller said, not enough people know they even exist – despite a mission that’s become absolutely critical for the people the’ve assisted.
“We do serve the entire United States and Puerto Rico, and we’re three years old,” said Miller, the manager of public fund-raising for Assistance Fund, which is based at 4700 Millenia Boulevard, Suite 500, in Orlando.
Over the course of those past three years, “We have served 9,000 patients with an average grant of $4,600 per person,” she said.
But at the same time, Miller added, one of their top tasks this year will be to get the word out that Assistance Fund is accepting new applications and ready to help more people.
“When I came to the Assistance Fund in November, I said ‘Awareness is Number 1,’ “ she said. “There are only five other organizations like us in the United States.”
The Assistance Fund is a 501© 3 non-profit organization created to address not the lack of health insurance, but existing coverage that fails to adequately meet patients’ needs – specifically, their ability to pay out of pocket expenses for medications and prescription drugs.
The Assistance Fund aims to make advanced biotech therapies available to the underinsured.
“People come to us who are chronically ill, or with Parkinson’s, and they have been prescribed medications that they can’t afford,” Miller said. “They come to us and say, ‘It’s either my mortgage or my medications.’ “
As scientific discoveries allow physicians to develop new therapy guidelines for seriously ill patients, The Assistance Fund works to ensure those patients can buy those medications.
“More than just a funding resource, The Assistance Fund provides a continuum of services for those with chronic and life threatening illnesses,” the firm’s Web site notes. “We make the most efficient use of technologies and leverage our understanding of the process to keep tabs on the status of the patient, assuring follow through and therapy compliance.”
This is about helping anyone, Miller said, who is underinsured, and has a plan that doesn’t cover the entire cost of their medications.
The company was founded by Jeff Spafford and Edward Hensley, two businessmen who worked in the biotech world, and recognized this was becoming a growing problem.
“Through their interactions and past work, they realized people couldn’t always meet their needs,” said Marilou Niggemann, the manager of grants and communications for Assistance Fund. “Even if I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, I’d still be underinsured because the medications are so expensive.”
That’s where Assistance Fund comes in.
“We are able to pay on behalf of patients,” Niggemann said.
“If we approved you for medications, we approve you for the entire year,” Miller said. “You won’t run out in May. That’s a big relief for them.”
And, she added, “More than 90 percent of those who apply are accepted. Most of our applications are from California, then Florida.”
The Orlando office operates with a staff of 12 people.
“We are mostly a call center, because we accept people from all 50 states,” Niggemann said. “We’re the only one like this in Florida. We started in 2009 and we’ve been growing ever since. We get a lot of referrals from pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry.”
Their funding comes from a mix of sources, including some money from public sector agencies, and some from the drug manufacturers.
“Our patient base almost doubles each year because of need,” Miller said, adding that this puts a lot of pressure on Assistance Fund to keep raising the money needed to cover this rising costs.
“We’re going to be launching an online application soon, and one for an app as well,” Miller said. “But we need to let people know we have these funds available. We can open at 9 in the morning and close by noon – that’s how fast the money goes, and then we have to go out and find more money. The need is always greater than the funds available.”
Niggemann said she expects Assistance Fund to be impacted by the implementation of ObamaCare, the universal health care program passed by Congress in 2010 and signed into law by President Obama. It requires all Americans to purchase government-approved health insurance by 2014.
“The health care fund will have an impact on us,” Niggemann said. “We deal with the underinsured, and under this new plan, the pool of people we work with will expand. Because there are millions of uninsured in this country, by having that population move from uninsured to underinsured, that allows more people to qualify for Assistance Fund.”
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