County passes new prescription drug discount plan

By HANNAH JOHNSON – Stillwater Gazette

Washington County will offer a prescription drug discount program to county residents.

Several agencies in the state offer discount prescription drug programs. The Washington County Board of Commissioners Tuesday chose to sign on with the National Association of Counties (NACo) prescription drug discount card program. Through the program, county residents will receive discount cards to use when purchasing their prescription drugs.

The card is free for residents. The program also does not cost the county any money to implement. NACo will negotiate discounts with participating pharmacies. Residents can use the card if they are not insured, if a prescription drug isn’t covered or for pet prescriptions.

NACo’s program has been in place for seven years. Nearly 40 Minnesota counties are enrolled in NACo’s program. All major chain pharmacies participate in the program, including Walgreens, CVS, Wal-Mart, Target and major grocery chains.

It will take about 10 weeks to implement the program. The county will provide additional information once the program is launched this summer.

Question of revenue

Residents using the discount card will see an average savings of 24 percent through the NACo program. The Department of Public Health and Environment presented two other programs: Coast2Coast, which offers an average savings of 55 percent, and ProAct, which offers an average savings of 45 percent.

Commissioner Autumn Lehrke – who is the liaison between Washington County and NACo and the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) – said she supports the NACo program because it’s free, supported by NACo and nine out of 10 pharmacies participate in NACo’s program. She added that the savings from NACo appear less because of different measuring standards, but it actually offers residents equivalent savings.

"The average savings with NACo seems less because of how they measure," Lehrke said. "If NACo measured the same as the others you would see they have the same savings."

The three programs presented to the board also offered different reimbursement options for money to go toward the county’s general fund.

Coast2Coast required an additional $1.25 go to the county and 40 cents go toward the AMC with every resident’s prescription drug transaction. ProAct did not offer a reimbursement option for counties to generate revenue from prescription drug purchases.

The NACo program offered two options: no reimbursement charges or receiving $1 per prescription drug transaction with the discount cards in addition to 40 cents going toward the AMC.

Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he was in favor of the program, but he did not support the county generating revenue through the reimbursement option.

"I’ll support this, but not as a revenue generator. I want all savings to go toward the consumer," Kriesel said. "These are tough times and these are the ones who can least afford it. … I want them to get the best bang for their buck."

Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek said he wanted a list of small, independent pharmacies in the county before he considered supporting the program.

"Basically if you break it down this is big organizations using government to squash competition," Pulkrabek said. "We’ll make some money but at the expense of independent pharmacies."

On the other hand, Commissioner Lisa Weik said she was not concerned about harm coming to small businesses because of the program.

"I don’t see this as a threat to small businesses at all," she said.

Lehrke made a motion to enroll in the NACo program along with its reimbursement option, which would tack on $1.40 to each prescription drug transaction for the county and AMC. The motion passed 3-2, with Kriesel and Pulkrabek dissenting.