Prescription drug bulk purchasing finally a reality… In L.A.

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If the City of Los Angeles can put a prescription drug bulk purchasing card in the hands of every resident, why can’t the United States of America? That’s the question I asked myself at the press conference announcing "LA Rx."

The ferocious Station fire bearing down on Los Angeles’s communication towers atop Mount Wilson diminished the media turnout at the launch of the ambitious prescription bulk purchasing plan rolled out by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.   Four cameras and three newspapers still covered LA Rx’s announcement at the Montecito Heights Senior Center in the Mayor’s old city council district Monday. 

Consumers who use the free prescription drug discount card, available at can save up to 40% on their prescription drugs.  It’s a Costco card without the Costco membership. And the savings are bigger than Costco on the top 20 most used drugs.

Five years ago the idea of giving Angelenos a bulk buy on their prescription drugs took shape on the floor of the City Council when Villaraigosa hatched the plan with my colleaugues and I.  He had been hearing about the high price of prescription drugs from seniors in his district and we told him if Costco could do it why not the City of Los Angeles.

A reporter today asked why it had taken so long.  The Mayor said city bureaucracy. The fact is that public programs like LA Rx are not only hard to get off the ground. They also are hard to get people to use.  It will take marketing on the part of the Mayor, the City and low income groups to let people know how a simple LA Rx card can give them big discounts on their prescription drugs.  Insured and uninsured can benefit.  Medicare Part D users can fill their doughnut holes, that gap in prescription drug coverage, simply by presenting the LA Rx card and/or discount number. It’s free dough for the doughnut hole.

The secret to the program is the bigger the buyer, the better the price. The card can be used anywhere in California, or America. The big savings are only guaranteed in LA, and will differ elsewhere but still be significant.  In fact any American can use the card and pharmacies across America are likely to accept it. 

The point I made at the press conference today is that Mayor Villaraigosa has delivered on a program that President Obama has not and President Bush would not. When the LA Department of Water and Power bills roll out after Labor Day every recipient will have a prescription drug bulk purchasing card that works in their hands.

It’s not hard for the federal government to do the same for Medicare recipients, allow bulk purchasing for prescription drugs, except that it appears the Obama administration has cut a deal with drug companes that will avoid such controls in exchange for the pharmaceutical companies’ support for health care reform. Governor Schwarzenegger promised a discount savings program for low income Californians years ago after the drug companies convinced him not to provide big savings to all Californians, but it’s never gotten off the ground.

Kudos to Villaraigosa, even if it took some time, for putting out a program with the potential to save Angelenos real money.  Now let’s see how well the City sells it.  The Mayor caught a little fire at the press conference when he heard the card could be used anywhere in California and the US.  He pledged to bring the program to the League of Mayors, which he will become president of next year, and to the rest of California.

Before we even left the Senior Center after the press conference, we got word that the first claim under LA Rx had been made. Someone had already used the card. Now we just need to keep it going and spread the savings.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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