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D.C. Offers Prescription Discounts

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006

A prescription discount card is being offered to District residents, regardless of income or age, in a program that could shave a hefty slice off the cost of many medications.

DC Rx is a cinch to use: There are no enrollment forms, no application fees, nothing to fill out.

"It's like tearing off a coupon and using it immediately," said Andrew Goldschmidt of the National Association of Counties, the program's sponsor.

The District recently joined more than 500 counties nationwide in the program that offers an average savings of 20 percent off the retail prices of prescription drugs not covered by insurance. Although it is intended to help lower-income residents who cannot afford coverage, it also benefits anyone who might have coverage that excludes certain medications, such as birth-control pills. It even covers prescriptions for pets.

"It also works on very expensive drugs," said Gina Lagomarsino, an adviser to the D.C. Office of the City Administrator. "There are stories of people around the country who have saved a thousand dollars a month on cancer drugs paid out of pocket. We think it will be useful to anyone paying full price."

Two years ago, the National Association of Counties launched a pilot program in 17 counties after finding through surveys that prescription costs were a universal and growing concern. The organization partnered with a pharmacy-benefit management company, Caremark Inc., which negotiated with drug manufacturers and pharmacies to provide discounts. There are no costs to the counties involved, other than publicity expenses, and no costs to taxpayers, Goldschmidt said.

Montgomery County was the first of the pilot counties to get involved, and the program's success there has been well-documented. Since November 2004, Montgomery residents have saved more than $2 million by using their Montgomery Rx cards, Goldschmidt said. Last year, the association decided to expand the program, and hundreds of counties have signed up, including Prince George's, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore. In Virginia, 32 counties have started it, including Prince William and Stafford.

The D.C. government recently began distributing 100,000 black, white and red cards at community and intake centers and through Catholic Community Services' Pharmaceutical Resource Center. They also are available at hospitals, social services agencies, public libraries and other D.C. government buildings.

The cards can be used at 98 percent of the District's retail pharmacies, Lagomarsino said, and at 57,000 pharmacies nationwide.

"The population we're frankly most concerned about are low- to middle-income residents who make too much to qualify for a free program like Medicare but are not high enough to have insurance," Lagomarsino said. "One of the sad ironies of the American health care system is that people without insurance end up paying the highest prices for drugs."

She said that there are no limits on how many times the card can be used and that everyone in a family may use the same card. Although generally not applicable for over-the-counter products, the discounts are offered for some diabetic supplies.

And also, in many cases, for Fido and Fluffy.

"The card can also be used for pets; 70 percent of pet prescriptions overlap with human prescriptions," Goldschmidt said. "Anybody can have their [veterinarian] write out the prescription and use the card."

One locale, Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix, actively promotes the pet feature, Goldschmidt said.

The association hopes more counties will join. "It has been an emphatic success," he said.

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