HHS Activates Aid for Uninsured Californians in Need of Medications Lost in Wildfires


Uninsured citizens in California’s Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties are eligible for no-cost replacements of critical medications lost or damaged by the current wildfires in those counties. This relief comes from the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP), managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).

“EPAP provides vital assistance to people without insurance who rely upon certain prescription medicines and equipment to protect their health after disasters,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, M.D. “I encourage citizens in impacted areas of California who qualify for this assistance to take advantage of it.”

At no cost to uninsured patients, those needing certain prescription medications during an emergency can obtain a 30-day supply at any EPAP participating pharmacy through Dec. 31, 2018. Most prescription drugs are covered under the program.

Uninsured patients also may use EPAP to replace specific medical supplies or medical equipment, such as canes and walkers, damaged or lost as a direct result of the wildfires or as a secondary result of loss or damage caused while in transit to an emergency shelter.

More than 72,000 pharmacies participate nationwide, including more than 200 in California. EPAP provides an efficient mechanism for enrolled pharmacies to process claims for prescription medication, specific medical supplies, and some forms of durable medical equipment for eligible individuals in a federally identified disaster area. All pharmacies in the United States are eligible to participate. Pharmacies in the California can call 888-571-8182, toll-free, to be added to the program.

Uninsured California residents affected by the current wildfires can call 855-793-7470, to learn if their medication or specific durable medical equipment is covered by EPAP and to find a participating pharmacy or visit www.phe.gov/epap.

HHS is providing additional assistance to the state. Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency in California on Nov. 13, 2018, authorizing flexibilities for CMS beneficiaries and providers retroactive to Nov. 8, 2018.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has temporarily waived or modified certain Medicare and Medicaid requirements to give healthcare providers, facilities and suppliers the flexibility needed to provide continued access to care during the wildfire emergency. In addition to issuing broad waivers, CMS can grant provider-specific requests for hospitals and other California healthcare facilities as needed.

HHS deployed approximately 60 medical and public health staff, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics from the National Disaster Medical System and behavioral health experts who are working alongside local professionals to provide care in shelters, as well as regional emergency coordinators (RECs) and environmental health experts who are coordinating with state and local health authorities and emergency response officials. Additional personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are on alert to provide medical care or additional public health support if needed.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is available to assist residents in the impacted areas in coping with the stress of the wildfires. The Disaster Distress Helpline provides immediate 24/7, 365-days-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions in disasters. Call 1-800-985-5990 toll free or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

SAMHSA also has resources available to assist residents with the behavioral health impacts of disasters, including tips for parents and educators on talking with children – PDF after traumatic events. Children respond to trauma in many different ways, and the tips cover signs of stress reactions in different age groups and how to help.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the California Department of Public Health and other partners on public information materials – PDF to help residents and responders protect their lungs from the effects of wildfire smoke.

HHS and state partners are encouraging people in the way of wildfire smoke to listen to local authorities and take precautions to protect their health. CDC cautions that children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with existing respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses are especially susceptible to the effects of smoke. CDC recommends that if told to do so, residents stay indoors and keep air as clean as possible by shutting windows and doors, setting air conditioning systems to the “re-circulate” setting, and operating air cleaners equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter documented not to produce excess ozone.

HHS, through its Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), leads the federal government’s public health and medical response and recovery support for states and territories after disasters. HHS works to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans, providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. ASPR’s mission is to save lives and protect Americans from 21st century health security threats.

Information on disaster health and HHS actions is available on www.phe.gov/emergency. Public Service Announcements with wildfire health tips are available on https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/psa/index.html.

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