Howard County soon will offer prescription-drug discount cards to residents.

The free cards should be available before the end of the year at libraries, senior centers and health clinics, Howard County Executive James N. Robey (D) said. They will be a "nice holiday gift for many of you," Robey said in announcing the program Friday during Howard County's annual 50+ Expo.

The discount will not apply to drugs already covered by an insurance policy.

But for residents who are uninsured or under-insured or who take drugs that are not covered by a prescription plan, the cards will offer an average savings of 20 percent on commonly prescribed drugs at participating pharmacies.

The program was created in December by the National Association of Counties and is administered by Caremark, a pharmaceutical services company.

Howard will join Montgomery and Baltimore counties in offering the cards. About 100 other counties nationwide offer the cards or plan to provide them.

Giant, Safeway, CVS, Wal-Mart and several other area pharmacies are expected to honor the cards, as are some mail-order drug companies.

Under the plan, discounts vary depending on the drug, with some as much as 50 percent off.

Once the program is launched, participants will have a toll-free phone number and a Web site they can visit for assistance and further explanation of the program.

Registration is not required, and anyone will be eligible, regardless of age, income or insurance coverage. Because there is no registration, those who are not county residents also will be able to get cards.