Prescription relief

April 22, 2005

A PRESCRIPTION drug card that doesn't cost a dime and offers potential savings of 20 percent to 50 percent? It's a real deal being offered by the city of Baltimore to residents, employees and retirees. And it shows how municipal government and the private sector can address a pressing public concern - the high cost of prescription drugs - in a meaningful way. The ScriptSave program is not a panacea. It doesn't offer prescriptions for nothing. But in today's market of triple-digit drug costs and steady increases in employee benefit costs, every penny counts.

The O'Malley administration's contract with ScriptSave, the Arizona firm offering the discount card, puts Baltimore in line with Montgomery, Anne Arundel and 20 other counties across the country that offer similar drug discount cards. The city card will provide savings on most prescription drugs approved by the federal government and some medical supplies, too.

How much? Savings for Montgomery County card users have averaged $13 per prescription for the first quarter of the year, says County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

The uninsured in Baltimore who don't qualify for public assistance may be the biggest beneficiaries of the program, not necessarily in total dollars saved but in savings they couldn't realize elsewhere. Consider this: City health officials say that keeping the average prescription filled here costs $62 a month. And if the average state resident uses five to nine prescriptions, that could be upward of $560 a month. Even insured folks - such as city workers who have seen their prescription copays rise - can save some money.

The Maryland General Assembly, with the backing of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., also has provided a prescription savings to those in need. A bill awaiting the governor's signature would allow about 40,000 uninsured Marylanders to purchase drugs at the Medicaid-negotiated price (a discount of 40 percent to 50 percent) at a cost to the state of about $1 million the first year.

These initiatives provide a public service with paybacks - in the physical and financial well-being of our citizens. That's a sure way to spell R-E-L-I-E-F.

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