N.J. to get discount drug card by July

Program targets those without prescription plans.

TRENTON, N.J. - A discount card already available in more than a dozen states that gives patients without prescription coverage significant savings on their medications is now being launched in New Jersey.

The program will start up by July in many other states and eventually be available nationwide. It offers one-third off drug prices on average, and savings as high as 75 percent, the program's directors said.

The federal government, most states and other public and private programs have long offered discounts on prescription costs, limited to low-income people or senior citizens.

About three years ago, when the pharmaceutical industry came under increasing fire for high drug prices, it started a program called Partnership for Prescription Assistance promoted by talk show host Montel Williams. But that program, which offers free or reduced-price drugs, also has income limits.

The state discount-card program, jointly supported by drug companies and roughly 60,000 chain and independent pharmacies, has no such income limits and also does not require a registration or monthly fee, as many older programs did.

"We've come up with a better system," said Ryan Jumonville, chief executive officer of United Networks of America, a holding company whose operations include various health-benefit programs offered through employers and the subsidiary UNARx of Baton Rouge, La., which has been rolling out the drug discount cards state by state.

The discount cards cover about 95 percent of prescription drugs, with the exceptions generally being new drugs, Francesco Ciccone, director of the drug card programs in New Jersey, New York and Florida, said Friday.

Since the first state card program started in Louisiana in 2006, he said, consumers have saved about $102 million on their medications.

"The pharmaceutical companies put programs out like this so they can put themselves in a better light," Ciccone said.

Pharmacies do so, he said, "in the hopes of earning a loyal customer," not to mention selling those consumers greeting cards, health and beauty aids, snacks and other items.

Discount cards can be downloaded and printed by logging onto the Web site for each state program. The sites have Web addresses with variations on the state name or postal code and either drug card.com or rxcard.com, among them www.newjerseydrugcard.com, www.ctdrugcard.com and www.puertoricodrugcard.com.

The Pennsylvania site is www.pennsylvaniadrugcard.com.

A single, national site linking to programs for each state is eventually planned. In the meantime, consumers can go to a national site, www.FreeDrugCard.us, and get a similar card valid across the country.

The Web sites also allow consumers to enter the name and dosage of their medication and their zip code to view discounted price at pharmacies in their area.

Participating pharmacies include major drugstore chains such as Walgreens, CVS, Drug Fair and Rite Aid, discount stores such as Kmart and Target, and grocery chains including A&P, Publix, ShopRite and Acme.

Ciccone said he has heard recent stories of patients getting huge savings, such as a Kansas woman getting a cancer drug that had been costing her more than $200 a month for just $23.

Among the states where drug cards are available: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, plus Puerto Rico.