Discontinued asthma medication? Philly patients are scrambling

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When Media-resident Jacqueline Vakil needed a refill in January for Flovent, her 4-year-old son’s asthma medicine, she could not get it, because the drugmaker GSK stopped making the popular inhaler. Their insurance provider does not cover the alternative drug their doctor suggested.

All the while, her son, James, was up at night coughing. She tried Vicks VapoRub, a humidifier, and steam from a hot shower to help soothe his deep cough.

“He couldn’t sleep at night with the cough and that’s when I got to the point that I was on the phone constantly with our doctor to try and find a substitute,” she said. “He would go to school and his school would tell me that he’s having a constant cough, as well.”

Vakil was on the phone with the insurance company, the pharmacy and their doctor for hours over the course of seven weeks. The insurance company suggested medicine that did not work for her son, because those require specific breathing techniques he could not learn as a 4-year-old.

“The whole process was frustrating because I felt helpless,” she said.

Media-resident Jacqueline Vakil and her 4-year-old son, James. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

After weeks, her son’s doctor, pediatrician Joannie Yeh at Nemours Children’s Health, gave her cell phone number to the pharmacy, and they found a medicine that worked for James and was covered by insurance.

“It’s really scary and very frustrating when you know our patients … may take a few days to a week to get the medication … if everything goes through smoothly,” Yeh said. “And of course parents are also working, so it’s not like they can just spend all day looking for the medication and calling around.”

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