Cheaper drugs for even more residents
To help residents pay for prescription drugs, a growing number of counties are offering drug discount cards. The cards, from Nashville, Tenn.-based Caremark, discount prescription drugs up to 35 percent and are distributed through the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo). Since the program began in May, some counties already have saved their residents hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In a program search last year, NACo staff and members met with counties to determine the most pressing issues affecting voters. One of the top concerns was the high price of prescription drugs. Nassau County, N.Y.’s prescription drug discount program, which began in July 2004 and saved residents more than $1 million in its first four months, was pinpointed as a model for a 17-county pilot program that began in January.
Caremark is a national prescription drug benefit provider, which offers prescription coverage for corporate health packages, managed health organizations and governments. With 57,000 participating pharmacies in its nationwide network, the Caremark program allows cardholders to save 12 to 35 percent on prescriptions, depending on the drug. Cardholders present the card at any one of the network pharmacies, including national chains Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart and Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS, and the discount is deducted at the time of the purchase. The cards may also work in concert with some health plans, offering discounts above standard prescription co-pay prices.
In taking on the role of “marketing arm” for the benefit provider, NACo is working with counties to launch discount programs. Participating counties can sign a contract through NACo to distribute cards to all or select residents. Counties pay only to distribute the cards, and the benefit provider collects fees from pharmacies for every prescription that is filled with the cards.
Since opening the pilot program to all counties in May, more than 100 have signed on, including Ohio County, W.Va. County Commissioner Tim McCormack says the county distributed 530 cards, saving residents more than $3,000 over a few months. The program, which is available to all of Ohio County’s 40,000 residents, was announced at several commission meetings and promoted in newspapers and on radio stations. “It is rare that you are able to give things back to people for nothing,” McCormack says.
Montgomery County, Md., also began offering the cards to all residents in May. So far, 43,000 prescriptions have been filled in the county with the card, saving $586,000. Because of the program’s popularity, Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner says Montgomery County has not spent money to promote the cards, which are available through libraries, government offices, medical clinics and nonprofit organizations.
Recent U.S. Census figures show that an estimated 44 million people in the United States do not have health insurance to help with high-priced prescriptions. At the same time, states are cutting Medicaid benefits, including prescription discounts, to deal with growing medical costs and reduced federal aid.
Individual states determine how to handle Medicaid cuts. In Maryland, Praisner says the state is considering an end to Medicaid prescription drug benefits to deal with rising costs. The discount drug card, she says, will assist Medicaid recipients in obtaining needed prescriptions.
Robert Kelly-Goss is an Elizabeth City, N.C.-based freelance writer.