Drug discount card use grows

Prescription program saves borough residents nearly $14,500

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Since launching roughly six months ago, a drug discount card program adopted by the Kenai Peninsula Borough is seeing a fair bit of use by residents who are lacking medical insurance to cover prescriptions, according to data collected by the National Association of Counties.

Borough residents became eligible to use the free medical prescription discount cards in August. The cards can save consumers an average of 20 percent.

The National Association of Counties, or NACo, sponsors the program for 920 participating counties across the country, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The pharmaceutical services company Caremark Rx Inc. administers the program and negotiates with participating pharmacies for discounts off their retail prices. Pharmacies benefit by drawing more customers. Caremark charges the pharmacies a small fee on each transaction.

According to information supplied by NACo, use of the cards is growing in the borough, with some 20 users in August growing rapidly to 117 users in September, 129 users in October and 141 users in November. Since launching here, some 959 prescriptions have been handled. In 172 of those cases, the pharmacy actually offered a bigger discount than the card could produce and customers opted for the lower price. But in 787 transactions, the discount cards saved customers money a total of nearly $14,500, NACo said. The average savings was $15.12.

Some consumers filled more than one prescription, but the numbers are an indication of the growing popularity of the cards, said Andrew Goldschmidt, director of membership and marketing for NACo, in a memo to the borough.

"It is good to see that folks are using the program and that they are realizing a pretty significant savings as well," said Assemblyman Pete Sprague at the Jan. 8 assembly meeting. Sprague first brought information concerning the program to the attention of the borough about a year and a half ago. Sprague represents the borough at NACo and sits on NACo's board of directors.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough was first to adopt the card program in Alaska. Since February 2006, that borough has seen a monthly average of 53 users. By comparison, the KPB has seen an average of 100 users a month between August and November. December data is not yet available. The only other area in Alaska to employ the cards is the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which began in October. Response there, so far, has been minimal.

Statewide, the cards have produced $42,411 in savings, averaging $11.33 per transaction.

"We owe some thanks to assembly member Sprague, too, for bringing that up. We were quite surprised in the administration at the acceptance throughout the entire borough and the distribution of those cards has been very thorough throughout the borough, too," Borough Mayor John Williams commented.

"It is a big savings to members of the borough who don't have health insurance," Assemblywoman Margaret Gilman said. "It is one of those programs we should continue to monitor."

The discount cards are free and may be obtained at the borough building in Soldotna, at borough satellite offices in Homer and Seward, as well as at hospitals and libraries, among other places.

Cardholders can immediately use the discount cards at any of 57,000 pharmacies that's about nine out of every 10 across the country, including many on the Kenai Peninsula. To find out if your pharmacy is a participant, simply ask, or call, toll free, 877-321-2652.

The discount card is not insurance and it cannot be used to increase the discount already provided by an insurance program.

The card does, however, allow insured users to obtain discounts on prescriptions not covered by their insurance programs or by Medicare. People eligible for Medicare who choose not to sign up for a Medicare prescription plan may continue to use the discount card.

For those with no insurance at all, the cards provide access to discounts they might not otherwise enjoy. On occasion, pharmacies may have discounts from their retail price that are greater than provided by the card. In those cases, customers are guaranteed the lowest rate available.

Another element of the program is a safety feature that alerts pharmacists when one drug may conflict with another being taken by the cardholder. That feature requires that both prescriptions be obtained with the NACo discount card, however.

Also, cardholder information remains confidential and is never sold to a third party for any reason.

While the national average savings is around 20 percent, savings as high as 50 percent are sometimes available on three-month supplies of selected generic drugs through the program's mail service. Savings also are available on high-tech and injectable drugs through the program's specialty pharmacy.

The card can even be used to obtain discounts on prescriptions for pets.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.

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