Making news the hard way 

Montel Williams appearance brings a big crowd — and a big controversy

AN IMPRESSIVE MILESTONE was reached in Savannah on Nov. 30, but soon was overshadowed by controversy.

Lawanda Frazier of Savannah became the 4.5 millionth person to be helped by the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a program that helps patients find cut-rate prescriptions. Frazier has both diabetes and epilepsy, and must take several expensive medications every day.

The Help is Here Express, a national bus tour sponsored by the PPA, rolled in to Savannah to take applications. Syndicated talk show host Montel Williams, national spokesman for the PPA, was on hand for the festivities, which included music from the Savannah Community Choir.

However, by day’s end, Williams was enveloped in a controversy that received national attention. According to the Associated Press, a 17-year-old intern with the Savannah Morning News, Courtney Scott, was interviewing Williams when he abruptly terminated the interview.

Williams, a patient advocate since his own diagnosis of multiple sclerosis 10 years ago, allegedly stormed off after Scott asked him if drug companies would be discouraged from research if profits were restricted.

According to news reports, Williams later confronted Scott, a second intern and a web content producer for the newspaper when they showed up at the Westin Savannah Harbor to do a story on the gingerbread village there. Believing the reporters were there to speak to him, Williams allegedly threatened them. Scott filed a police report after the incident.

The next day, Williams sent Scott an apology from the e-mail address of Melanie McLaughlin, president of Mountain Movers, Inc., which produces his talk show. It read, “Regrettably I reacted childishly to the situation and for that I truly apologize to all concerned. I would like to invite Courtney and her family to appear on my show for a public apology.”

Unaware of the drama unfolding around them, a large crowd in Johnson Square cheered as Frazier was recognized. Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, described the PPA as a “one-stop shop for people who have no place to turn for help.”

The PPA is designed to help people who don’t qualify for public assistance, yet can’t afford private health insurance or are under insured. A family of four making less than $40,000 or a couple making less than $27,000 without insurance would qualify for benefits from PPA. The program works by linking patients with assistance programs that are already in existence.

Montel Williams himself is a patient. “I suffer from multiple sclerosis,” he said. “I understand, believe me when I say, what it’s like to need medicine every day.”

Every month, Williams takes oral medication and injections that cost about $2,500. “I want to encourage people to take their medication because it works,” he says.

The medication he takes helps Williams stand and walk. “I was diagnosed 10 years ago and suffered from MS for 20 years,” he said. “Pain has become my cousin, a friend who lives in my feet.”

While Williams promotes taking medication that is beneficial, he also encourages listeners to take better care of themselves before they need medication. “You’ve got to stop and think how many of us wouldn’t need medication if we took better care of ourselves. I know exercise helps with this disease. I push away some of the garbage I was taught to eat. We need to pay attention to what we do.”

The PPA has more than 1,300 local and state partners ranging from the American Cancer Society to the NAACP, Johnson said. A local partner now includes A Working Woman In Need, which was started by Sarahlyn Argrow, a breast cancer survivor, to support low-income women who are working.

When Argrow lost her job, she lost her health insurance. “I had to go to the free clinic,” she said. “I cried for 30 minutes. I knew if the doctor found something wrong with me, I couldn’t afford it. Before the doctor could treat me, he had to console me. We need more programs like this.”

To apply for assistance call 1-888-4PPA-NOW or visit www.pparx.org.

Kristi Oakes

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