Merced County to provide drug discounts

MERCED -- All Merced County residents soon will be eligible for discounts on prescription drugs not covered by insurance.

A prescription discount program offered through the National Association of Counties is set to launch in Merced on April 1.

Once it's up and running, here's how the program will work:

All county residents, regardless of age, income or existing health coverage, will be eligible for a discount card, John Volanti, the county's public health director, said. Cards will be available at government buildings across the county. They'll be free, they won't require filling out any paperwork and one will cover an entire household.

The cards will be good at 25 pharmacies across the county, including Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Costco, Rite Aid, Save Mart and Raley's. They'll entitle residents to discounts on all prescription drugs not covered by insurance, even medications for pets. For people with no insurance, the cards can be used on any prescription.

Medicare recipients will be able to use the card for medications not covered by Medicare Part D, Volanti said.

The average discount is 22 percent. The program costs its users nothing, and it costs the county nothing.

"When I learned about the program, my first reaction was that it's too good to be true," Volanti said. "That's what everyone says when they hear about it."

The program was created in 2006 by a partnership between NACO, a national organization that lobbies for more than 2,000 U.S. counties, and Caremark Health, a private firm that negotiates discounts directly with participating pharmacies. Merced becomes the eighth California county to offer the program, joining Mariposa, Alpine, Lake, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta and Sutter counties.

So far, more than 800 counties across the country are using the program. Membership in NACO, which Merced County joined more than a decade ago, is the only requirement to participate.

"That's the benefit of belonging to a group that size," said Supervisor Mike Nelson, who suggested Merced's participation in the discount program. "This is a great program, even for people who have health coverage."

The Board of Supervisors voted to approve Merced's participation in the program earlier this month.

The public health department will release more information on where to get the cards in the weeks before they're available.