City launches program to save residents money

October 14, 2010 4:07:26 PM PDT
It's a problem we see too often - the uninsured choosing not to take important medications because they're just too expensive. But now there's help for Houstonians struggling with the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. On Thursday, the city announced a new prescription drug program that provides discounts to those who need it most.

The cost to you is nothing, and the benefits could cut your prescription drug bill significantly.

Medication or food is the choice many without health insurance face in Houston, according to city council members. The only way to tackle that problem is to cut the cost of prescriptions and that is exactly what's about to happen.

The last time Charlie Wells got a prescription for antibiotics, he never got it filled.

"My eye was so swell up and went to the drug store to get me something and I did not have enough to get it and so...I didn't take it," Wells said. "I could not afford it."

City leaders say one-third of Houston residents are just like Wells, unable to pay the full cost of prescription drugs. Now they won't have to.

"When presented with the program we are going to roll out today, my initial response was, 'There has got to be a catch," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

The mayor has a good reason to be skeptical. The prescription drug plan being offered comes at no cost to the city, or residents who use the new card.

The program promises to pay up to 40 percent of a prescription drugs cost and it's accepted at most major pharmacies. So how is it possible?

"Customers come into their stores, the more customers they get into the store with this card waiting for prescriptions, they get eye glasses and Tylenol or whatever else they need," said Ed Rhan with Financial Marketing Concepts.

He says the foot traffic in stores will drive sales of non-prescription goods and that's why pharmacies are offering the discount.

While anyone can use the card, if you have insurance you are probably already getting a better deal for prescription medications.

Rhan says for those who are uninsured or have poor insurance, the discount could save you about 40 percent on prescription drug costs. That's something Charlie Wells looks forward to.

"That sure enough is a blessing right there," said Wells.

The city is not paying for it because the pharmacies are offering it. The program is in place in other cities and counties who also aren't paying for the program.

More on the card

It's called the Coast to Coast RX card. It offers discounts on prescription drugs to anyone who uses it. The card will soon be made available to residents within the city of Houston to anyone who wants one.

If you present the card at participating pharmacies, we're told you'll receive a discount of about 40 percent. There are about 60,000 drugs covered by the card and it will be accepted at places like CVS, Walgreens and even Walmart pharmacies.

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See how much the card can save you on prescriptions:
Drug Pricing Tool
Enter your zip code, the name of the drug and number of doses, and you'll receive a list of pharmacies in your area with exactly how much they're charging for the prescription.
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Those behind the card say it's the pharmacies that are offering the discounts.

"The pharmacy chains are basically giving up part of their margins to drive business so that people come into the stores and buy other products. It's the same as if they're advertising on television and radio and newspaper, so they give a portion to our pharmacy benefit manager who gives a portion to us, and we give a portion to the city of Houston," said Marty Dettelbach of Financial Marketing Concepts.

This card does not replace insurance. We're told that if you already have insurance, you're probably going to get a better deal with your insurance at the pharmacy. However, if you don't have insurance or you find out a drug that's been prescribed to you is not covered by your insurance plan, then you can use the card to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Every time the card is used, one dollar will be donated to the city's Health and Human Services Foundation, a non-profit that doesn't have dedicated sources of funding but does help several programs in the city of Houston.


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