Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley unveiled a program yesterday that offers all city residents the chance to spend less on prescription drugs, an initiative being tried by other local governments across the nation to ease the escalating cost of medications.
O'Malley announced that the city has contracted with Tucson, Ariz.-based ScriptSave for a discount card that can provide savings of 20 percent to 50 percent on nearly every prescription drug approved by the federal government.
Montgomery County and 20 other counties nationwide began offering a similar program in December through their national association. That program provides a discount card from Caremark of Nashville, Tenn.
Anne Arundel County has had a similar program with ScriptSave for five years, but its discounts -- like similar Medicare and Medicaid discounts offered by the state of Maryland -- go only to low-income individuals. The Anne Arundel discounts range from 20 percent to 30 percent, said Mary Ann Woodzelle, director of Anne Arundel County's community health division.
State and national statistics show that prescription drug costs have been rising by double digits. The increases have slowed recently, but prices are still prohibitive for many who have no insurance or who have weak prescription coverage, health officials said.
"[The discount cards are] going to save some money for some percentage of the population," said Michael Deskin, president of Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute, a consulting organization in Tempe, Ariz. "If it's no cost to the citizens of Baltimore, it's a great thing because they can check to see if it will save them a little bit of money."
The ScriptSave and Caremark discount cards offered through Baltimore and the National Association of Counties are free to all residents regardless of age, income or health coverage.
Both cards are accepted at approximately 50,000 pharmacies nationwide -- including Rite Aid, Epic, CVS Pharmacy, Giant, Walgreens, Safeway and Kmart -- and they offer discounts on all brand name and generic medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
For Baltimore residents who already have prescription coverage, the new card would offer another option, enabling them to see which would give a bigger discount, city officials said. The Baltimore card also provides discounts on personal medical equipment.
Cardholders will never be charged a fee, and the program costs local governments nothing. A ScriptSave vice president, Darren Gargus, said the company makes money by charging participating pharmacies a fee for having cardholders directed to their stores. He would not disclose the fee.
In Maryland, the average price per prescription is more than $62 a month, city health officials said, and the average state resident uses between five and nine prescriptions.
"That's $560 a month for prescription drugs," O'Malley said at a City Hall news conference yesterday. "As a result, we can understand why many individuals are forced to compromise their health and their well-being in order to simply make ends meet and make choices between eating, staying warm in the winter or buying prescription drugs."
O'Malley and Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said they believe Baltimore is the first city to offer such a prescription discount card, but the mayor praised other jurisdictions for implementing the initiative. "You're seeing a number of jurisdictions around the state starting to make these innovations," O'Malley said.
Montgomery Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a potential O'Malley rival for the Democratic nomination for governor next year, wrote in a letter to other Maryland cities and counties last week that the residents who are using his county's card have seen average savings of $13 per prescription for the first three months of the year.
How to apply
To receive Baltimore's ScriptSave discount card, city residents can call 800-700-3957 and mention Baltimore's group number, 576.
Anne Arundel County residents can call 410-222-4548 to see if they are eligible for Anne Arundel's prescription drug discount card. Download an application at www.aahealth. org. Click on the "community health" link and look for the "prescription discount program."
Montgomery County residents can get information about their discount card at www.mont gomerycountymd.gov. Click on "Montgomery Rx" for details.