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New drug discount plan goes into effect



Published: Tue, January 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some pharmacists worry that the program will make more work for them.

COLUMBUS -- Gov. Bob Taft is to kick off the state's prescription-drug discount program for older and low-income Ohioans.

Taft and others who helped to create the plan are scheduled to appear at a Columbus health center today to launch Ohio's Best Rx program.

"The governor knows both the use and cost of prescription drugs are overwhelming for some people," Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said Monday. This new program should help address those concerns, he said.

State Rep. John P. Hagan, R-Alliance, who sponsored the bill passed by the state Legislature in 2003 that authorized the program, said the measure will free up prescription-drug price relief for the poorest Ohioans and senior citizens.

"We've got a large portion of the population that has had no group" to help get prescription-drug relief, Hagan said. "This makes them part of that aggregate group."

Union support

"We think it's going to be the best discount plan in the nation," said Tim Burga, legislative director with the Ohio AFL-CIO, one of the groups that helped develop the drug-discount plan.

"It assists the under-60 age population as well as the over-60," Burga said. "The income requirement is fairly liberal. As a result of that, we think that there are going to be some real savings associated with it."

The Ohio AFL-CIO consists of about 1,600 local unions around the state with a total membership of about 500,000.

Cost savings

Under the program, Ohio's Best Rx could provide discounts to between 1.2 million and 1.7 million Ohioans, according to organized labor and state officials.

Those covered would include people 60 and older, and anyone at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level -- $23,275 annual income for an individual and $47,125 for a family of four, said Jon Allen, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which oversees the program.

According to the program's Web site, drug prices and rebates are not negotiated with drug manufacturers as in other prescription-drug discount programs. The price and rebate amounts are based on the average price paid by the state employee health plan and health plans of state retirement systems, minus rebates offered by manufacturers.

Ohio's Best Rx guarantees that at least 95 percent of any rebate amount for a particular drug will be used to lower the cost of the prescription for the plan's participant, according to the program's Web site.

An Aurora company, Envision Pharmaceutical Services Inc., has state contracts worth about $10 million to cover start-up costs of the program, Allen said. Applications for the card will be available beginning today.

Price checks

Pharmacists are bracing for the new prescription drug discount program because it joins a muddle of choices among dozens of similar discount cards.

Pharmacists are already overburdened running price checks for customers to see which card offers the best discount, said Ernest Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association.

"People come in with six different drugs with three or four different cards," Boyd said. "We have such a shortage of pharmacists right now that it's hard to get real prescriptions filled, let alone fake ones run to see what the price is."

The Ohio chapter of the AARP has dozens of volunteers working with seniors around the state to advise them on how to get the best drug price, and their load is not expected to get any lighter, said AARP spokeswoman Kathy Keller.

Best Rx promises to help solve this problem by making pricing information available on its Web site or by calling a toll-free number.

Ohio's Best Rx emerged in September 2003 from negotiations between major drug makers and the Ohio Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs, which included organized labor.

Taft signed the bill authorizing the program in late 2003.




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