Newest Discount Drug Card Off To Strong Start

April 8, 2009
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The latest prescription discount card is free, widely distributed and available for use by everyone.

The Area Agency on Aging of West Michigan began administering, distributing and marketing the new Kent County Rx Discount Card last fall, and now it is accepted at more than 2,000 pharmacies throughout the state.

The public’s initial response to the card fell just short of overwhelming.

“In a matter of three days, we had over 400 phone calls,” said Jackie O’Connor, AAA-WM assistant director. “It was tremendous.”

The card is the brainchild of Kent County. Acting on a recommendation made by a subcommittee that Commission Chairman Roger Morgan appointed last May, county commissioners approved the card in October. The card carries an average savings of 35 percent on prescription purchases, up to 75 percent on some drugs. It can’t be used in tandem with insurance coverage.

Kent chose United Networks of America as the discount program’s administrator. But the county needed a local organization to get the word out to the public, and there weren’t any funds available. So AAA-WM gladly accepted the challenge.

“We have a contract with the county to administer the Kent County Senior Millage. When we heard about the program, we thought it would be a benefit to older adults, so we offered to market and distribute the card because we knew it would help our clientele,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor met with 40 local organizations late last year, both in and out of her agency’s network, to explain the card’s benefits. Then she went to local radio and television stations and talked with them about promoting the card.

Next, she secured branches of the Grand Rapids and Kent County library systems as distribution locations for the card.

A printable version of the card is available online at the Kent County and AAA-WM Web sites.

O’Connor said it doesn’t matter if the county card competes with other discount programs.

“The key thing is, people know there is a way to get a discount on prescriptions,” she said. “And what I hear and feel is, if they see a card with a recognizable agency like Kent County or Arena Agency on it, then they are more likely to have confidence in the card.”

The subcommittee Morgan established a year ago consisted of three commissioners, two of whom lost their seats in the November election. Former Commissioners Harold Mast and Jack Boelema served with current Commissioner Carol Hennessy on the subcommittee for five months. They concluded in September that a discount program was necessary because certain groups of residents needed financial help to buy medications.

One group was those with income above 200 percent of the poverty level, the cutoff point for many government-assistance programs. Others were those with no or limited prescription drug insurance; those who need a brand-name drug that doesn’t have a generic alternative and isn’t covered by insurance; and those who can’t easily access retail outlets that offer discounts on prescriptions.

Another group the subcommittee felt needed help was senior citizens, even though most are likely subscribers to the Medicare Part D prescription coverage. O’Connor explained that enrolled seniors could use the card when they hit the program’s “doughnut hole.”

The hole opens when a senior buys $2,200 worth of prescriptions in a calendar year and it doesn’t close until an enrollee spends $3,600 on drugs that year, leaving them with a $1,400 gap that isn’t covered by Part D. The card can be useful for seniors in the hole because not everyone spends enough on medications to restart their Medicare coverage.

“In talking with people that handle (Part D), they said most people don’t reach the other side of that doughnut hole. If do you reach the other side of that doughnut hole, you do want to continue your drug purchases through that Medicare coverage. But if you don’t, this card could provide you with discounts,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor suggested that even those with prescription insurance coverage get a county card and then ask their pharmacists to run the tab twice, once under insurance and once with the drug card, because insurance co-pays are rising and using the discount card might save people more money in certain instances.

Kent County isn’t the first county government to create a discount prescription card, but it is the first to market one to the general public. O’Connor said Ottawa County created the card before Kent did and sent it to the Health Department, where it has sat idle. O’Connor said an official from that office called her and said they would be keeping a close eye on how AAA-WM unrolled the Kent card because they hadn’t done anything with theirs.

The card has no age restrictions, so kids and college students also can use one. Nor is there an income limitation, meaning even the wealthy can save on their drug costs. And a person doesn’t have to live in Kent County to get a county Rx Discount card — or even be a person … like Purrkins, O’Connor’s cat.

“I have a pet who takes medicine that is a human medicine, and I asked the vet to write the prescription. I took that to a Walgreen’s and said I want my pet to take advantage of this card, and the savings were unbelievable. I normally pay $35 to the vet. I paid Walgreen’s $6. That’s a significant amount of savings,” she said. “So he is in the system.”

The county card also offers savings on other health-related items like eyeglasses, vitamins, teeth whitening and hearing aids. But the card’s primary mission is to join a growing list of ways for residents to counter the rise in prescription costs.

“It’s just like taking advantage of Meijer and their free antibiotics, and Family Fare and Target with their generics for $1 a week. If you want to save money, there are ways out there to save money,” said O’Connor. “You’ve just got to take advantage of all of them and figure out which ones benefit you the most.”

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