Interest high in drug plan

By SHARON SALYER

Herald Writer

A statewide prescription drug buying club announced by Gov. Gary Locke in August to provide discounts to anyone age 55 or older is expected to kick off next month.

"We’ve gotten a steady stream of phone calls, we deal with them every day," Ree Sailors, a health policy adviser to Locke, said of interest in the discounts.

The comments she most often hears: "I remember reading about this, what happened?" and "How do I sign up?"

You can now put your name on a waiting list for information by writing to the program in Olympia. A Web site and toll-free phone line won’t be set up until sometime next month.

The annual charge to join the statewide Awards buying plan is $15 for individuals or $25 per couple. Anyone who currently has a prescription drug benefit included in their health insurance is not eligible to join the state plan.

Prescription drug coverage through a health insurance plan is "better than a discount," Sailors explained. "This is for people who have no coverage."

Locke announced the plan during the height of a re-election campaign in which he was challenged by Republican John Carlson.

At the time, retail discounts of 12 percent to 30 percent were promised on prescriptions bought at local pharmacies, while discounts of 20 percent to 49 percent were promised on those bought through the mail.

Some 900 pharmacies are expected to participate in the discount program statewide.

However, like almost any prescription buying plan, it will not provide the lowest cost on every drug.

To find out what an individual prescription would cost, people enrolled in the Awards program would call their drugstore and tell the pharmacist that they are a member of the buying club, Sailors said.

Since the buying club was established through an executive order by Locke, it does not have to be approved by the Legislature.

The attempt was to get the program under way quicker "rather than waiting for a whole legislative session," Sailors said.

But it does have to go through a process that includes a public hearing on the guidelines for how the program will be established. The hearing was Wednesday in Kent.

The plan for a statewide buying club was set up through the state’s pharmacy benefits manager, Merck-Medco, Sailors said. The company has worked as the pharmacy benefits manager for some of the state’s employee benefits program for almost 10 years.

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