- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

D.C. residents will pay less for their prescriptions through a new drug discount card program announced by the mayor’s office yesterday.

The drug discount card, which is administered by Caremark Rx Inc., will save an average 20 percent off the retail price of commonly prescribed drugs. Both brand name and prescription drugs will be eligible for the discount. However, because pharmacy drug prices are different, the savings will vary, depending on the prescribed drug.

The discount card is free to any resident regardless of income level or age and will be accepted at 98 percent of the city’s pharmacies, including CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies.

Spending on prescription drugs has been a key factor in the steady rise of health care costs to consumers. A recent Consumer Reports found that Rite Aid charges around $162 for a 30-day supply of five popular generic drugs. And brand-name drugs are rising at more than double the rate of inflation — nearly 7 percent a year.

Last month, retail giant Wal-Mart announced plans to provide monthly supplies of more than 300 generic drugs for $4. That move was promptly followed by Target announcing it, too, would sell generic drugs for the same price.

Wal-Mart is set to annnounce today that it is expanding the program.

It is calling news conferences in Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Vermont to discuss a “major new initiative” for consumers.

Officials would not discuss the news conferences further, but one state official familiar with the expansion, who declined to be named because the topic is supposed to be kept confidential, confirmed the announcements would be about $4 generics coming to those states.

Forty-one states are participating in the discount card program, which is sponsored by the National Association of Counties. The program comes at no cost to the city. Instead, Caremark administers the drug discount cards by ensuring rebates from major drug manufacturers.

“Our prescription-drug costs have gone down by 26 percent since we entered the program,” said Shannon Ernst, social services director in Churchill County in Nevada. “We have an elderly population with a lot of low-income people, so it’s been very successful for us.”

The District of Columbia joins Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties in offering the program.

Montgomery County has been a participant in the program since it began in 2004. The District held off joining in January 2005 because city officials thought people would be confused by the discount card.

and the debut of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

English and Spanish versions of the card will be available at community health centers and Women, Infants and Children program sites throughout the city. In addition, Catholic Community Services, which manages the DC Pharmaceutical Resource Center, will distribute cards.

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