Prescription drug card passes milestone, angers some pharmacists

The National Association of Counties (NACo) announced this week that their Prescription Drug Discount Card Program has helped counties save more than $179 million since the program began five years ago.

According to NACo, the free prescription discount cards have been used to purchase more than 15 million prescriptions for families residing in participating NACo-member counties. There are no age, income or health restrictions on the cards and “all commonly prescribed prescription medications, including pet medications, are eligible for a discount.” The average savings is 23 percent off the regular retail price, according to the association.

“These are truly valuable cards counties are making available to American families at no cost to taxpayers,” said NACo President Don Stapley, a county supervisor in Maricopa County, Ariz. “Many families are struggling to make ends meet. By taking advantage of the savings available with the NACo card, families are able to use those extra dollars on other necessities.”

The National League of Cities also offers the card, which is meant to make prescription drugs cheaper only to those who do not currently have insurce that covers prescriptions. The NACo card can, however, be used on prescription purchases that are not covered by current insurance if consumers already have insurance. The NACo Prescription Drug Discount Program was created in 2004 in a partnership with CVS caremark as a 17-county pilot program.

In May 2005, the program was available nationwide to NACo-member counties. CVS Caremark, the largest provider of prescriptions and related health care services in the nation, negotiates the discounts directly with the pharmacies and drug manufactures “NACo has been a dedicated partner with CVS Caremark to make the free NACo Prescription Discount Card program available to counties and their residents,” said Kirby Bessant, vice president, consumer programs, CVS Caremark. “Since the inception in 2004, it has enabled county governments to help their residents save more than $108 million in prescription drug costs.”

By most accounts the NACo cards have been received well.

“We know that folks who have been laid off have been losing their health insurance,” said Kate Horle, spokeswoman for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, who interviewed with the Denver Post. “Maybe with this, you don’t have to choose between prescriptions and your Xcel bill.”

“We are extremely impressed with the numbers so far,” Cambria County Commissioner P.J. Stevens said to the Jonestown Tribune Democrat in Pennsylvania.

And in Will County Illinois, Health Department spokesman Vic Reato told the Chicago Tribune, “Interest has been pretty brisk. It’s really a wonderful deal.”

But not everyone is happy. In Torrington, Wyoming some local pharmacies have decided not to honor the cards because the drug cards are putting them in between a rock and a hard place.

Torrington local pharmacist, Jancy Walter outlined the problem perfectly in a story to the Telegram:

“Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM) like Caremark are a middle man who administers contracts for the drug companies,” Walter said. “They are not drug stores or insurance companies. Pharmacies transmit information to the PBM and the PBM responds with a price to charge the customer. PBMs have become very large and it has become a ‘take it or leave it’ situation in accepting their conditions.”

Jancy Walter also said that customers who have used the card get follow up calls by Caremark who then urge them to switch to a mail-order program, cutting out the pharmacists all together.

Fellow pharmacist Sheila McWaters shared in Walter’s sentiment. “We cannot hand out things for free,” McWaters said. “I am all for making it fair for patients but we can’t stay in business if we take these type discounts – it does not hit their (chain pharmacies) bottom line like it hits us. We cannot accept this discount drug card.”

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