Some area pharmacists will be participating in the new Iowa Priority program for Medicare-eligible seniors and disabled Iowans to save on prescriptions, but the businesses have had little information so far on the discounts which are scheduled to start Wednesday, Jan. 2.
However, Iowa seniors have been swamping the program's toll-free number for information and enrollment. In the program's first week mid-November, more than 12,000 phone calls reached the toll-free number for information at the Iowa Department of Public Health. Overflow calls have been routed to the program's benefit manager Argus Health.
The two page form available at local pharmacies or clinics asks for basic identification, a checklist of health conditions, how many different prescription drugs were taken in the last month, and the total amount paid. The senior or person with disabilities must include a copy of the Medicare card for eligibility.
The program requires a $20 annual membership fee to accompany the form before a membership card can be sent. Several Iowa politicians have suggested the $20 could be a gift from family members.
"Currently, because of the high cost of prescription drugs, 10 percent of seniors don't fill their prescriptions; 19 percent take their medicine less often than prescribed, and another 10 percent split pills to make them last longer," cited Sally Pederson, Iowa's lieutenant governor.
The amount of the discount to be received depends on the particular drug prescribed.
"Iowa seniors shouldn't have to choose between buying necessary drugs and vital necessities like housing and food," said Gov. Tom Vilsack. "The Iowa Priority Prescription Savings Program will help make prescription drugs more affordable and provide greater health security for seniors."
The program was started with $1.5 million in federal dollars, sponsored by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.
All licensed pharmacies and physicians in Iowa may participate in the program. Membership cards should arrive four to six weeks after enrolling. Discounts at participating pharmacies begin on Wednesday, Jan. 2.
Another benefit is the Brown Bag Assessment Program. Members receive a $25 coupon the first year they join. The assessment is a free, optional medication review by the member's physician or pharmacist. The physician or pharmacist makes recommendations to prevent adverse reactions and duplications and reduce overall medication costs.
Iowa Priority members will also receive education on new prescription medications, potential interactions and drug recalls. A periodic report highlighting individual prescription drug savings will also be provided to members.
The non-for-profit organization of Iowa Priority works with pharmacists, physicians and pharmaceuticals to help consumers. However, the program has experienced a number of delays in getting started and getting information to the pharmacies expected to participate.
"We're planning on it, the way it looks now," said Tom Ryan, pharmacist and owner of Family Pharmacy in Le Mars. However, he believes the prices and success of the program will depend on how many seniors sign up and for what medications.
Both the Kingsley Pharmacy and the Remsen Pharmacy answered that they would be participating and sounded eager to begin. Thorson Drug in Akron staff said they are waiting for more information before registering.
The Le Mars Wal-Mart pharmacy department responded that they would not be participating at this time as the chain's prices seemed to already be lower than the program.
"We'll be successful because of the unique alliance we formed and the valuable input we received from consumers, pharmacists, physicians and the private sector," said Diane Skinner, executive director of the Iowa Prescription Drug Corporation. However, from the beginning the program has appeared plagued by difficulties in communicating with the pharmacies in a clear-cut plan on how the program will work.