For some New Yorkers struggling to pay for prescription drugs, help is on the way this month.
To save money, more than a third of residents ages 50 to 64 reported last year they did not fill or delayed filling their prescriptions, or took less medication than was prescribed, according to an AARP survey. An additional 14 percent cut spending on other necessities in order to afford their drugs.
“The high cost of prescription drugs finds many individuals without drug coverage unable to afford the medicines they need,” said Richard F. Daines, M.D., the New York commissioner of health.
As of April 1, the New York Prescription Saver card will be accepted at participating pharmacies. Intended to make medicine more affordable, the card is available free to state residents ages 50 to 64 and the disabled of all ages with incomes of less than $35,000 for an individual and $50,000 for a couple. The Prescription Saver card will offer discounts of up to 30 percent for brand-name drugs and up to 60 percent for generics. Discounts will vary depending on the medicine and the pharmacy. The New York Department of Health provides a comparison of prescription prices by pharmacy. (See also frequently asked questions and answers about the card.)
Not yet eligible for Medicare and at risk of layoffs, the 50-to-64 population is more likely than other age groups to be uninsured, at precisely the age when they are “at increased risk for the onset of chronic health problems,” said Bill Ferris, legislative representative for AARP New York. The association campaigned for the card as part of a four-year effort to make prescription drugs accessible and affordable to more New Yorkers.
The association hopes to eventually expand the card’s services to residents of all ages.
“It is a fundamental mission of AARP to bring affordable prescription drugs to all New Yorkers in need,” Ferris said.
Prices of widely used medications such as Lipitor and Advair rose 30 percent to 50 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to a 2008 AARP Watchdog Report. The price of Ambien rose almost 160 percent.
Linda Marie Fiori said that although she is basically in good health now, she is worried that could change as she ages. A part-time bookkeeper, she is uninsured and said, “If a medication became a lifestyle with me it would be devastating.” So when the 56-year-old Montauk resident heard about the New York Prescription Saver card, she was happy to sign up. “It could make the difference between being able to take a drug or not.”
Julie Naglieri, director of the state’s EPIC (Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage) program, noted that the discounts are being provided by participating pharmacies and drug manufacturers. The state is bearing the program’s administrative costs.
As of March 1, more than 2,500 pharmacieshad agreed to accept the card, including chains such as Rite Aid, Walgreens, Duane Reade and Pathmark, Naglieri said.
“We are recommending to our member pharmacies that they participate,” said Selig Corman, director of professional affairs for the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. But Corman warned that with skyrocketing prescription prices, even discounted drugs will still be expensive. “It’s not a panacea,” he said.
Like many national chains, Rite Aid—whose 675 New York stores are participating in the program—has its own discount card, said Cheryl Slavinsky, the company’s director of public relations. But she noted that it can be worthwhile for consumers to compare which card—the state’s or the store’s—would give them the lowest price on each prescription.
Jacqueline Rivkin is a freelance writer living in New York.