West Virginia Pharmacies Express Concerns About Governor’s Discount Drug Plan for Seniors
West Virginia pharmacy owners are criticizing Senior Prescription Assistance Network II, Gov. Cecil Underwood's (R) discount drug program for seniors, stating that it would cost them $50 million per year -- an average loss of $115,000 per pharmacy per year, the Charleston Gazette reports. Last week, Underwood signed an executive order directing the state Public Employees Insurance Agency and Bureau for Senior Services to create the prescription drug discount card program, which offers pharmaceutical savings of 10%-15% to seniors with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level. SPAN II, for which applications will be released Nov. 1, is expected to provide about 100,000 seniors with limited or no prescription coverage an average savings of $500 each per year. On Oct. 23, however, representatives of 436 state pharmacies stated that the program's costs make it "doubtful [that] any drug stores will accept the SPAN II discount cards." Richard Stevens, lobbyist for the West Virginia Pharmacists Association, said that many of the state's small, rural pharmacies have gross sales of less than $1 million per year and that "lost revenue from the discount would eat up any profit." He added that the plan "punishes" pharmacies, whose average profit margin is 3.1%, "when the real blame for soaring prices lies with the drug manufacturers," whose profit margin averages 15%-24%. "The cost is going to have to be borne by groups other than just the pharmacies," Stevens said. John Hodges of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores said that the pharmacies are trying to set up a meeting with the governor's office to devise a "more equitable plan." BSS commissioner Gaylene Miller said the pharmacies have not contacted her directly, but added, "I know there are ongoing discussions with these folks trying to address these concerns. I feel confident these things can be worked out" (Kabler, Charleston Gazette, 10/24). In other prescription drug program news, since it began taking applications Oct. 16, South Carolina has received 5,500 applications "and just as many calls" for its SilverCard program offering discounts and copayments to uninsured seniors, the AP/Charleston Post and Courier reports. The state will continue to accept applications until Dec. 1, and benefits will begin Jan. 1. Gov. Jim Hodges (D) said, "The tremendous response we've seen during the first week of SilverCard applications clearly indicates that this program will fill a vital need for some of our most vulnerable senior citizens" (AP/Charleston Post and Courier, 10/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.