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MERCER, PA. Cooperation council studies prescription drug program



Published: Sat, August 17, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The drugs are free, but participants would have to pay fees based on the number of prescriptions they get.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- A free prescription drug program being considered by a local labor-management group could benefit a wide range of low-income people, not just retirees of companies that belong to that group.

Northwest Pennsylvania Cooperation Council is looking at the program to provide free drugs to about 700 retirees, many of them former Sharon Steel Corp. workers.

It turns out the program, run by Patient Assistance Services of Marion, Ohio, could have much broader ramifications.

Representatives of the company outlined the program for council members at the Mercer County Career Center on Friday.

The company does have a free drug program under the title Total Care Rx, but there are strict income limitations on eligibility, said Justin Hamper, chief operating officer.

That might work well for many retirees with low incomes, but Patient Assistance Services has other discount prescription drug programs available to help others who are still working and retirees who have no prescription plans but can't meet Total Care Rx income guidelines, he said.

Hamper said his company has more than 18,000 clients enrolled in Total Care Rx.

The program is really designed for maintenance drugs that are taken over long periods.

Hamper said his company is dealing with major pharmaceutical companies in the United States that have low-income drug giveaway programs.

Applying for the program

Anyone can try to enroll, but the process is difficult, he told the commission. His company handles all the initial paperwork for clients for a one-time $25 application fee.

The drugs are free, but those who qualify (annual income is limited to $16,000 for individuals and $25,000 for families) must pay his company a semi-annual administrative fee based on the number of prescriptions they are getting.

The drugs come in 90-day supplies, and Patient Assistance Services automatically keeps renewing patient prescriptions to avoid interruption of service, Hamper said.

The semi-annual fees are $55 for one or two prescriptions, $145 for three to five prescriptions, $265 for six to nine prescriptions and $295 for ten or more.

For those who don't qualify because of income, Hamper said Patient Assistance Services offers a Discount Rx Services program that involves direct mailing of prescription drugs through Canadian pharmacies which have much lower prices.

There is just a one-time $25 fee to apply for that program, which averages drug discounts of about 48 percent, Hamper said.

Prescription card

Finally, his company offers Universal Rx, a program that gives participants a free prescription card without any application fee that guarantees them the lowest retail price on drugs they must buy.

Dick Miller, executive director of Northwest Pennsylvania Cooperation Council, said the council does have an unlimited prescription drug program in place for retirees now, but it costs them $170 a month, and it may be eliminated by the insurance carrier at the end of this year.

Frank Laaks, co-chairman of the council, said looking at the plans offered by Patient Assistance Services is one of the alternatives the commission is considering for its retired members.

The council has 80 company and union members in seven northwestern Pennsylvania counties, including Mercer but not Lawrence.




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