The Rx Fix
RoundtableRx, a nonprofit startup led by students at the U of M’s College of Pharmacy, is easing the burden of medication costs for Minnesotans in need with a prescription-drug repository.
Minnesota, like the rest of the country, contends with the
crippling cost of healthcare, and prescription medications are
a big part of the problem. With more than one-third of Minnesotans struggling to afford their everyday medications—an
issue exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic leading to job loss and
subsequent loss of healthcare coverage—the need for an innovative solution
has never been more pressing.
Thanks to the launch of RoundtableRx, a statewide medication repository,
Minnesota will soon get a healthy dose of that type of innovation.
The nonprofit startup, spearheaded and led by students at the U of M’s College of Pharmacy, functions as a redistribution center for unopened, unexpired medications that can still be safely prescribed to patients. By collaborating with the state’s largest long-term care facilities, RoundtableRx receives unused medications, then sorts, safety-checks, and redistributes them to a network of provider partners. Those providers, which span seven healthcare systems representing 33 hospitals and 200 clinics, pass along access to medications at a reduced cost to patients. Prior to RoundtableRx, these unused medications would otherwise have been thrown away or destroyed.
“People are struggling to afford the
medications they need,” says Rowan
Mahon (M.P.H., M.H.I. ’19; Pharm.D. ’20),
founder and managing director of RoundtableRx. “At the same time, we’re throwing
away millions of dollars’ worth of safe
medications. When you can do something
to help, I feel like you have to.”
Mahon has been working on the launch
of this repository for the last three years.
Early in her education at the College of
Pharmacy, she discovered that 21 other
states in the U.S. have medication repositories, including Iowa, which has repurposed
nearly $18 million worth of medications
over the last decade. Mahon wondered
why Minnesota wasn’t doing the same.
The answer, she learned, was that there
was no state legislation in place to do
so. Driven by the opportunity to solve a
problem with a straightforward solution,
Mahon and others in the student group,
Public Health Advocacy Student Alliance,
worked with the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy to write legislation, then petitioned
for a bill that would allow Minnesota to
launch its own medication repository. In
May 2019, the bill passed into law.
Mahon and her colleagues hope to see
a lot less waste and a lot more savings
for Minnesotans in need. Currently in
Minnesota, there are 325 long-term care
facilities, including nursing homes and
assisted living facilities, that dispose of
an estimated $16 million worth of safe,
unexpired medication every year. At the
same time, the state’s uninsured rate is
rising to more than 350,000 people. For
these individuals, the question of affording
medication is very real.
“We learn in pharmacy school that if
you can’t afford the medication, it’s neither
safe nor effective,” says student Eva
Carlson (Pharm.D. ’22), assistant director
of student relations at RoundtableRx. “We
talk about how cost is a big part of adherence, making sure you’re on the right
medication and taking it consistently. Cost
won’t take care of all adherence issues, but
it’s a big one.”
The types of medications that Mahon
and Carlson expect to receive from
long-term care partners are primarily
maintenance medications: drugs for blood
pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and other
cardiovascular issues, as well as mental
health medications. Redistributing these
medications ensures better preventative
healthcare for Minnesotans, a step in the
right direction to improve overall health.
“The phrase ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure’ comes to mind,” Mahon says. “I’d rather fix a problem at the beginning than having to do life-saving measures. A simple course of medications can improve and save lives.”