Valley may adopt L.A. plan for prescription discounts;

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SoCal program may save 40% on medicines with buying pool.

Fresno Bee

Health-care and business leaders gathered Thursday to announce a plan that could save San Joaquin Valley residents 20% to 40% on prescription drugs with the creation of a purchasing pool.

The group discussed a drug discount program that is moving forward in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles City Council approved the program in May, and it could start in about two months.

Local supporters of the plan want it duplicated in the Valley.

Both the Los Angeles and Fresno proposals are being put together by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group based in Santa Monica.

“It would bring that same model [LA Rx] to the San Joaquin Valley,” said Jerry Flanagan, the foundation’s health policy director.

Under the plan being pursued in Southern California, Los Angeles would contract with a pharmacy benefits manager, a private firm that would negotiate a discount with drug companies. The plan is expected to have minimal cost to the city but save residents upwards of 40% on prescriptions.

It is similar to a program already operating in Nassau County, N.Y., where every registered voter was mailed a drug discount card to use at area pharmacies.

The announcement of the plan to benefit residents in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare counties was made at the Fresno offices of the California Nurses Association.

Details about the local program have not been determined.

In attendance at the news conference were representatives from the association, the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the business community.

“In the San Joaquin Valley, about 560,000 residents don’t have access to prescription drugs,” Flanagan said.

If they do have coverage, it is often limited or they can’t afford it.

The news conference also promoted a Thursday night town hall forum to discuss the proposal.

The forum was scheduled to be taped at the Comcast studios in Fresno.

Part of the discussion was expected to center on whether the Valley should join the purchasing pool being created in Los Angeles, start a separate Fresno County pool, or be part of a regionalized San Joaquin Valley purchasing pool.

Flanagan said virtually anyone who wants to save money on prescriptions would be eligible for the program, including those with health insurance. Participants would have a card to use at local pharmacies throughout the area.

Dennis Montalbano, owner of German Auto Repair in Fresno, welcomes such a program. He said the rising cost of prescriptions affects him and his employees.

Montalbano said the health plan through his company — which carries a high deductible — isn’t affordable for all of his workers. He said one of his employees pays $200 for a three-month supply of Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug.

John Hernandez, president of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said this new plan provides workers with another option.Leslie Hawkins, a registered nurse in Fresno and member of the California Nurses Association board of directors, said she hopes “to see the citizens of the San Joaquin Valley benefit from this.”

“We feel that the quality of patient health suffers considerably when patients cannot afford prescriptions prescribed to them,” she said.

Hawkins said seniors on Medicare, in particular, struggle with high prescription costs. The federal Medicare program does not cover prescriptions.

“Often, when they can’t afford medication, they split their pills” to make them last longer, she said.

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