Pharmacists get drug card burden

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The education of a complicated and new national Medicare discount drug card system will fall largely on the shoulders of retail pharmacists.

Today, the Medicare Web site, www.medicare.gov, will provide drug price comparisons and tell Medicare recipients where they can use the various cards, but many of the seniors who will be eligible for the benefit won't have personal access to the Internet.

The card system is being implemented to cover seniors who no longer have prescription medicine insurance. Some seniors, based on income guidelines, may be eligible for $600 in government aid over a year.

Each card will cost $30, and 35 cards will be available to choose from.

The AARP has urged seniors to take their discount cards to a pharmacist and ask which one is best.

That means pharmacists like Amy Thompson at Scott City's Medicap Pharmacy will likely be doing a lot of one-on-one instruction once seniors can begin choosing cards on Monday.

"It's going to be quite a bit of responsibility," Thompson said. "It's a situation where this drug may be $3 on Card A. The same drug may be $4 on Card B, but another drug might be cheaper."

Pharmacist Kelley Pipkin of Thriftway Drugs in Jackson agreed.

"It puts a lot of burden on us, and we've been discussing that," she said. Pipkin said a regional meeting of pharmacists was held last week to talk over the issue.

The fact that other discount cards have already been put in place by states and drug companies further complicates matters.

Pipkin said the new Medicare cards probably won't help those Missouri seniors who already have a Missouri Senior Card. That card, she says, gives seniors a 40 percent discount, which in many cases covers well over $600 in prescriptions during a year's time.

Michelle Flath, the office manager for Broadway Prescriptions in Cape Girardeau, said the National Community Pharmacy Association is urging local pharmacies to push the Community CareRx.

The card was designed with retail pharmacies' best financial interest in mind, creating a potential conflict of interest when pharmacists begin trying to educate seniors on their options.

"The problem is that seniors will be barraged with information on what card to get," Pipkin said. "And with some of them, the rates are so extremely low that the pharmacist might lose money if they used that card."

The Community CareRx plan excludes mail order prescriptions, which hurt retail pharmacies. But it will also allow for 100-day supplies of drugs, while other national plans only allow for discounts on supplies of 60 days or less.

If seniors have concerns about any advice, they can always check prices on the Medicare Web site or call (800) MEDICARE if they have questions.

Although cards can be purchased as early as Monday, many have suggested waiting while the government considers the approval of more cards. Once a card is chosen, the recipient must stay with that card for a year.

The cards will become active on June 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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