/publications/issue/2004/2004-04/2004-04-7813

The Rush Is On to Issue Medicare Drug Discount Cards

Author: Ken Rankin

The nation's seniors are likely to be swamped with offers for Medicareapproved Rx discount cards authorized under a controversial provision in the President's new prescription benefit plan for the elderly. Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) report that more than 100 different organizations have formally applied to sponsor cards? including several retail pharmacy groups that were among the harshest critics of the discount card plan last year.

Independent pharmacy operators are rallying behind a proposed new Community Care Rx card that is being sponsored by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) in cooperation with Computer Sciences Corp, MemberHealth Inc, and the Senior Care Pharmacy Alliance. NCPA officials said that their card will be patterned after MemberHealth's Golden Buckeye Rx discount card that is already in use in Ohio?a "proven program" that offers "meaningful discounts" to seniors.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) has applied for federal approval for its own Rx discount card, which chain pharmacy leaders plan to issue in partnership with the Pharmacy Care Alliance and pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts.

"NACDS is allying with Express Scripts because of its distinguishing commitment to making the use of prescription drugs safer and more affordable by aligning interests with its clients and members and relying on choice," a spokesman for the chain group said. Under the arrangement, Express Scripts will be responsible for negotiating discounts from drug chains participating in the discount Rx program.

For their part, officials at CMS have welcomed the flood of applicants from organizations hoping to sponsor prescription discount cards. "The robust level of interest from potential card sponsors demonstrates commitment for a program that will enable beneficiaries who need these cards to begin saving on the cost of their medicines in a few short months," an official at the agency said.