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Published: Wednesday, 1/12/2005

Drug-discount plan expected to benefit up to 1.5M Ohioans

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - As many as 1.5 million Ohioans may save money on prescription drugs through a new program for low-income residents and senior citizens without insurance coverage, state officials say.

The program, Ohio's Best Rx, is expected to provide average savings on prescription drugs from 25 to 30 percent, Gov. Bob Taft said.

"Consumers can do more to make things happen if they get more involved, and if they keep their eye on what they're after," said Bill Burga, Ohio AFL-CIO president.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Taft presented the first Ohio's Best Rx card to Canton resident Robin Ford, who said she doesn't have medical or prescription drug insurance in her job as a graphic designer.

She said she spends about $400 per month for prescription drugs. Ms. Ford, 39, said her husband, Glenn, is disabled. They have an 8-year-old son and a daughter, 7.

With the Ohio's Best Rx card, Ms. Ford said her family will save about $80 per month.

"That may not seem like a lot, but in my case, it is a miracle," said Ms. Ford, who said her husband has had heart problems and she suffers from migraine headaches. She said she is paid about $19,000 a year.

Impetus for the program was pressure from a coalition of labor and consumer groups led by the Ohio AFL-CIO, said Kurt Malmgren, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The choice was between the coalition led by the AFL-CIO putting a proposal on the statewide ballot or negotiating a bill that the legislature would approve, Mr. Malmgren said. Mr. Taft signed that bill into law in December, 2003.

"The rising cost and need of prescription drugs continues to be a terrific burden and challenge for our working families and senior citizens in Ohio," said Mr. Taft, who unveiled the program in Columbus.

Mr. Taft said the Golden Buckeye prescription drug savings program, which debuted in September, 2003, has provided about $19 million in savings to seniors and the disabled.

Mr. Taft noted that state Rep. Dale Miller, a Cleveland Democrat, introduced a prescription drug discount bill in mid-2001.

"We are not at the final product. We have made a real good start," said Mr. Miller, who said the cost of starting Ohio's Best Rx program cuts into the savings that can be passed on to consumers.

In July, 2004, the state Controlling Board approved a contract with Envision Pharmaceutical Services Inc. of Aurora, Ohio, to run Ohio's Best Rx program. The other bidders were Walgreens Health Initiatives, MemberHealth, Inc., and SAV-Rx.

Envision will receive $1 per transaction for the first 1 million, 95 cents each for the next 4 million, and then 80 cents for each transaction following that.

"There aren't a lot of programs out there for the working, uninsured families," said Bernie Kosar, the retired Cleveland Browns quarterback who is a director and among the founders of Envision Pharmaceutical Services.

Contact James Drew

at jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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