Generic drugs save money

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By James Roberts

Health care costs are on the rise, but local pharmacies are doing their part to keep medicine in the hands of those who need it.

Local pharmacies are offering discounts on generic prescription drugs, some as low as $4 for a 30-day supply.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, generic drugs are "the same as a brand-name drug in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance and intended use."

Generic drugs are held to the same FDA standards as brand-name drugs.

Kroger began offering more than 300 prescription drugs at $4 per 30-day supply last Wednesday at 80 of its Kentucky stores, including both Campbellsville locations.

Like other programs, Kroger's program offers a variety of prescription medications, including antibiotics and medicines to treat high blood pressure, asthma, high cholesterol and diabetes.

A list of the medicines on the list is available at www.kroger.com/generic or by calling toll-free (877) 4RX-LIST (877-479-5478).

Nelda Eads, manager of Kroger's East Broadway pharmacy, said the program allows Kroger to stay competitive while offering affordable medications.

Wednesday was a good day to kick off the program, Eads said. Wednesday was also Senior Day at Kroger, a day in which senior citizens receive a discount on their groceries.

"We had a lot of people asking about it," Eads said.

While anyone is eligible for the generic drug program, Eads said, seniors using Medicare Part D will likely see a great benefit.

Medicare's prescription plan has a gap during which users must pay the cost of their medicine themselves.

Medicare will pay 75 percent of prescription costs. However, once costs reach $2,250, coverage is stopped. The beneficiary must spend $2,850 on prescriptions that year before Medicare steps back in and pays 95 percent.

"We have a lot who use Medicare Part D," Eads said. "This will help them out when they hit that gap."

Wal-Mart began its discount program about two years ago and now offers more than 360 prescription drugs at $4 for a 30-day supply. Medicines include those that treat high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, depression and maintenance drugs.

A list of the available medicines can be found at www.livebetterindex.com/4drug.pdf.

The program is available to anyone and is heavily used, according to Gerald Altman, manager of the Campbellsville Wal-Mart pharmacy.

"We get a tremendous number of people that are coming out of urgent care or the emergency room - where they see a lot of people who don't have insurance."

Altman said Wal-Mart started offering discounted drugs as prices began to rise.

"We see this everyday. Drug costs are moving up. We're seeing seniors' drug bills each month that are as much as their income."

Central Drug pharmacist/owner Mitchel Cox, whose store matches Wal-Mart's program, said most of his customers have insurance.

"The vast majority are insured. About 80 percent have insurance. [High costs] become a burden for the small number that don't."

Medicine Centre pharmacist and owner Ed Baise said his pharmacy offers a 90-day prescription drug program, which gives his customers access to more than 150 drugs at a significant discount. Prices range from $15 for 90 pills to $35 for 270 pills. Everyone is eligible, Baise said. Insurance is not required. Medicines include those that treat high blood pressure, diabetes and anxiety.

Baise said he introduced the program last summer mostly as a response to many insurance companies' mail-order prescription programs.

"We're all concerned about health care costs and this is just one of the ways we are trying to address it."

However, insurance costs won't drop, Baise said, until true competition is introduced, allowing consumers to choose their insurance and where and how they get their prescriptions filled.

Information was not available for CVS Pharmacy, however the store's Web site states that it offers "competitive pricing" on generic drugs.

Store policy at Nation's Medicines prevents it from advertising any discounts it may offer.

"We just try to keep prices low all the time," pharmacist Teresa Phillips said.

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com.