BigAppleRx: Can NYC's discount card for prescriptions ease hospital strains?

A free card available to anyone can bring 47% savings on prescription drugs through 2,000 local drugstores. Can this new purchasing power relieve the burden on public hospitals?

Beginning yesterday, New York City is offering its first official prescription drug discount card, which promises to increase access to affordable medication for those who don’t have insurance.

Free and available for anyone – including tourists, commuters, and people who already have insurance – the BigAppleRx card can be used in over 2,000 pharmacies in the city.

Discounts on prescription meds are expected to be 47% on average – with the 53% savings on generics and 15% for name brands.

Patients with diabetes could save as much as $831 a year on generics while asthma sufferers could save $667 on inhaler drugs. And anti-cholesterol drug Zocor, for example, would be reduced to $18.51, down $69.61.

About 85% of the total number of the city's drugstores are willing to offer the discounts in return for attracting more business from shoppers who also might buy other items while in the stores, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Not only could the card raise drug sales, it might also ease the strain on the city’s public hospitals.

“Having access to a free prescription drug card can mean the difference between being able to afford prescriptions and being forced to skip doses,” said Bloomberg, who unveiled the card in front of the pharmacy at a Brooklyn Target.

Last year, more than 800,000 New Yorkers said they didn’t fill a prescription because they couldn’t pay for it, according to Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs.

But the city has one of the nation's biggest Medicaid programs, whose recipients already get the benefit of lower drug prices. Still, 1.2 million people in the city have no medical insurance, and local public hospitals treat 450,000 of them a year.

Neighboring Nassau County, which began its discount drug card program in 2004, says it saves residents 24% off retail prescriptions and 50% on generics.

HealthTrans Access, which will run the city's new program, has already signed up 10.6 million people around the country.

“The more New Yorkers who use it, the bigger our purchasing power, the more we're going to get larger discounts for everyone," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

When asked how pharmacies could possibly offer such huge discounts, Bloomberg replied: "They have a very high profit margin… There's no secrets here."

Images by penywise via morgueFile

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