Island County prescription program needs booster shot

Patricia Guthrie / Whidbey News-Times — At Island Drug in Oak Harbor, pharmacy tech Lisa Bacolo sorts through the many prescription cards customers bring. in

Island County residents saved $8,000 in prescription costs the past two years by using a little-known county government pharmacy assistance program aimed at helping those without health insurance.

To date, 162 residents signed on with the prescription discount card but it could be helping more people, officials speculate.

“This program provides Island County residents with national buying power in prescription purchases so it’s great for saving money on people and pet prescription costs,” said Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.

Brochures and posters widely advertise the program at county offices and it’s featured on the Island County Public Health Department website.

But it’s failed to gain traction.

“We do not know why the program has received so few participants,” said Keith Higman, director of Health Services. “It may be a lack of knowledge that it exists, confusion over what prescriptions it may cover, some may believe it is not worth their time or isn’t a legitimate program.”

Employees interviewed at four Oak Harbor pharmacy locations had never heard of the program, never seen the red-and-white discount fliers and they didn’t recall a single customer ever presenting the card.

“We do all kinds of discount cards here but they are usually specific to certain pharmaceutical companies,” said Lisa Bacolo, pharmacy technician at Island Drug. “I’ve never seen this card. Could we put a stack on the counter? Where do we get it?”

The free prescription cards are at available at most county offices. Residents can also sign up on line at www.nacorx.org.

The program isn’t health insurance, but an option for those who lack insurance or whose coverage is limited.

Counties aren’t billed for any costs, but they must be members of the National Association of Counties (NACo) to offer the program called Live Healthy U.S. Counties Prescription Drug Discount Program.

“It looks like since June of 2015, 162 folks in Island County have used the program, filled 281 prescriptions so far for a savings of about $8,000,” said Andrew Goldschmidt, NACo director of membership marketing. “Certainly, we could build more awareness.”

Officials say the program differs from mass-marketed prescription discount come-ons because it’s not being pitched by a pharmaceutical company toward a targeted drug.

It covers a wide variety of prescriptions, including some medications needed for pets, requires no enrollment or claim forms and has no limits for monthly or annual use.

Price Johnson said she encouraged Island County to participate after learning of it at a national meeting.

“It has been successfully going on in Snohomish County for years and has an established base of users there,” she said. “It is a new program for us so the usage number is still low.”

In Washington state, 17 counties participate. Nationally, 1,400 counties have joined the program since it started in 2004.

Savings range from 15 to 75 percent; average saving is 24 percent. The discount card is accepted at more than 68,000 pharmacies nationwide, including at least six in Oak Harbor, according to NACo.

The program, which is administered by CVS Caremark, also provides certain pills for Fido, Fluffy and other four-legged friends. If your pet is prescribed a medication that is also used for humans, the program advises to ask your veterinarian for a prescription and take it to a participating pharmacy.

Looking over the flier that explains the program and has a pre-printed enrollment card with the words, “Island County, WA” in bold print, Bacolo of Island Drug said she knew of many customers who would probably benefit.

“People probably have no idea they could be using this,” she said. “We have many that pay for their medications with cash because they have no health insurance.”

David Coffman, a pharmacy tech at Walgreen’s, said most customers at his store have health insurance and don’t need to use any pharmacy discount cards.

At Rite-Aid, pharmacy tech Cesar Fuentes said he’d never seen the Island County discount card.

“We get a lot of customers bringing in mail-in discount cards but I steer them to the Rite-Aid card because it’s usually cheaper to use our card,” he said.

For more information visit www.nacorx.org or call 1-877-321-2652. NACo Live Healthy prescription discount cards are also available at Island County offices.