OBJECTIVES: This study examined how physicians perceive pharmaceutical companies' medication assistance programs (MAPs). METHODS: The study was conducted using a survey of 373 primary care physicians from four southern states; they were surveyed within the formative evaluation phase of a larger study (MI-Plus). Respondents were queried about use and usefulness of MAPs for patients who cannot afford drugs, and barriers to using them. Bivariate associations between physician-level variables (patients without drug coverage) and usefulness and barriers to using MAPs were assessed using Chi square tests. Independence of associations was assessed using multiple logistic regressions. RESULTS: Of the 364 (97.6%) respondents who used MAPs, 70% used them regularly, the rest occasionally; 63% found MAPs very useful in caring for patients who could not afford drugs. About 89% reported one or more barriers to using MAPs; 47% saw "inability of patients to apply directly;" and 57% saw "enrollment process being time-consuming for staff" as barriers. Compared to physicians with fewer elderly patients without drug coverage, those with more of these patients were less likely to find MAPs very useful; less likely to report no barriers to using MAPs; and more likely to see "low income thresholds" and "inability of patients to apply directly" as barriers. CONCLUSION: While MAPs are considered useful in caring for patients in need of assistance, there are many barriers to their use. Pharmaceutical companies should address these barriers. Limitations include a low response rate (about 10%). © 2009 Southern Medical Association.