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Georgia promotes discount card for prescription drugs

POSTED: August 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Sara Guevara/The Times

Pharmacist Kasey Dillard of Dawsonville fills a patient's prescription while pharmacy manager Dan Lorenzen of Cumming works on prescription orders Wednesday at The Longstreet Clinic pharmacy. The Georgia Department of Community Health and Department of Human Resources will work to identify Georgians who may benefit from the Together Rx Access card, which provides discounts on prescription drugs.

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  • Hear Roba Whiteley, director of Together Rx Access, explain the program.
Having trouble paying for prescription medicines? It seems there’s no shortage of companies that want to help out.

First, there was Wal-Mart with its $4 generic prescriptions, a program that was quickly copied by other national pharmacy chains.

Then, earlier this summer, Hall County government announced the upcoming distribution of a free prescription discount card that can be used at any pharmacy. Sponsored by the National Association of Counties and administered by Caremark, the cards will be available this fall to anyone, with no income restrictions. It will provide discounts of up to 20 percent.

And last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the state will begin promoting a "Together Rx Access for Georgia" card.

It’s a version of an existing nationwide program that involves most of the major pharmaceutical companies.

What’s different, according to Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley, is that Georgia agencies will be helping Together Rx Access get the word out about the card.

"We’re the first state to agree to this co-promotion," he said. "It doesn’t cost the state anything. It uses the resources we already have."

Brantley said employees with the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Georgia Department of Human Resources will be on the lookout for clients who might benefit from the card.

"If they encounter a child who’s on Peachcare but the parent doesn’t have medical insurance, for example, they can present this as an option," he said.

Together Rx Access is not an insurance program; it does not pay for patients to see a doctor. But once people go to the doctor and are prescribed medicine, the program can help them purchase the drugs they need.

More than 300 brand-name prescription drugs are included in the program, at discounts of 25 to 40 percent. Members also get the lowest available price on generics.

There is no fee to enroll or to use the card. You can sign up online, and once you’re enrolled you do not have to renew the card.

But to get a card, you have to meet certain criteria. You can’t be eligible for Medicare or already have any form of prescription drug coverage. Your household income must be less than $30,000 for a single person or $60,000 for a family of four. And you must be a legal resident of the United States or Puerto Rico.

Once you’re issued a card, you cannot combine it with other discounts. If you also get one of the discount cards that Hall County will be offering, you can choose which card you want to use for a particular prescription, but you can’t use both cards on the same purchase.

Roba Whiteley, executive director of Together Rx Access, said since the program began three years ago, more than 1.6 million people have signed up nationwide, including almost 60,000 in Georgia. And about 10,000 people across the country are enrolling each week.

But with an estimated 47 million Americans who don’t have health insurance and countless others who have some medical insurance but no prescription drug coverage, Whiteley wants everyone to be aware that help is available.

"The pharmaceutical companies pay to operate the program," she said. "They have set it up as a philanthropic initiative."

Together Rx Access is not the same as the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a well-publicized clearinghouse that refers people to more than 475 public and private programs that can help people pay for medicines.

Nor is it related to the assistance programs offered by the individual pharmaceutical companies.

"The (income) eligibility for assistance programs is much lower than ours, and those people often get their prescriptions for free or almost free," Whiteley said. "Ours is a prescription discount program."

People can qualify for Together Rx Access if they earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, a demographic that Whiteley said is often neglected.

"Middle-income people are the most rapidly growing segment of the uninsured," she said.

This program is especially useful as the economy lurches toward recession, she said, because customers can continue using the card even if they lose their job and their insurance coverage.

Whiteley said Georgia was chosen as the first state to do a co-promotion "because of the rapid increase in the number of uninsured and also the growing Hispanic population."

Brantley said the discount card is not intended to be a cure-all for Georgia’s health care problems.

"I think this fits into a niche category. It will be right for some and not for others," he said. "This is the free market coming up with a solution to help customers."



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