It was still dark Friday morning when Albertha Williams arrived at the Meeting Street Piggly Wiggly and waited for a bus that could help her pay for her prescription medicines.
The James Island woman said her Medicare plan has hit a gap in coverage, commonly known as a "doughnut hole," leaving her unable to afford her prescriptions, including $300 a month for two inhalers.
"I wasn't going to wait until the last minute to get here," she said.
She arrived before 7 a.m. to make sure she would be on the large, orange Partnership for Prescription Assistance bus when its doors opened two hours later. The partnership, a national effort sponsored by pharmaceutical research companies, runs two buses across the country to help match people with programs that can help them pay for their prescriptions.
The organization looks to help people with low incomes or don't have insurance, said spokesman Jeff Gilbert.
"We will tell them in 10 to 15 minutes whether they're prequalified," Gilbert said.
Williams was off the bus about 15 minutes later, happy after hearing that a program probably would be able to help with her prescriptions.
Meanwhile, the debate over health care continues to rage in Washington. The Senate Finance Committee rejected a proposal Thursday that would have required pharmaceutical companies to give bigger discounts to Medicare on drugs dispensed to older Americans with low incomes.
The proposal called for drug makers to provide Medicare with discounts in the form of rebates totaling more than $100 billion over 10 years, according to The Washington Post. Some of the money would have been used to close the so-called doughnut holes in Medicare coverage of prescription drugs, a gap that more than 8 million Medicare beneficiaries fell into in 2007.
Friday marked the fourth time a Partnership for Prescription Assistance bus visited Charleston. Gilbert said they've helped more than 5,000 Charleston area residents since April 2005.
The bus is on its way to Florida next week.
If you missed the bus, Gilbert said people can get the same information by calling 888-4PPA-NOW or by visiting www.pparx.org.
It's best to know what the prescriptions are when contacting the organization, he said.