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Merced rolls out discount Rx program

Merced County residents can pick up free discount cards at locations across the county.  The cards, which require no registration, can be used immediately and don't expire, are good at 25 pharmacies, including Walgreens.  The average discount is 20 percent.
Merced County residents can pick up free discount cards at locations across the county. The cards, which require no registration, can be used immediately and don't expire, are good at 25 pharmacies, including Walgreens. The average discount is 20 percent. AP

MERCED — Public health officials admit it sounds too good to be true, but they insist it's for real:

Beginning now, all Merced County residents are eligible for discounts on prescription drugs not covered by insurance.

It's free. You don't have to fill out any paperwork. And it even covers medications for pets.

"Even though it's April 1st, this isn't a joke," John Volanti, the county's public health director, said during a Tuesday news conference announcing a new countywide prescription discount program. "We think it's going to save a lot of families a lot of money."

The new program is offered through the National Association of Counties.

Here's how it works.

All county residents, regardless of age, income or existing health coverage, can pick up free discount cards at locations across the county. You don't have to register, you can use it immediately, it doesn't expire, there are no limits on how many times it can be used and one card covers an entire household.

They're good on almost all prescriptions your insurance won't cover — or all prescriptions if you have no insurance — and they're good at 25 pharmacies across the county, including Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Costco, Rite Aid, CVS, Save Mart, Longs Drugs, Raley's and several locally owned pharmacies.

The average discount is 20 percent, and the card can be used for generic and name-brand drugs.

Medicare recipients can use the card for medications not covered by Medicare Part D, Volanti said.

The program costs users and the county nothing.

"In looking at it, we all agreed it sounded too good to be true," said Merced County Supervisor Mike Nelson, who led efforts to bring the program to Merced. "This offers significant savings for the uninsured and underinsured of our county."

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 company that negotiates discounts directly with participating pharmacies. "It's the volume that makes it possible," Volanti said.

Though few counties in California are taking advantage of the program, about 1,000 across the United States are using it, Volanti said. Membership in NACO, which Merced County joined more than a decade ago, is the only requirement to participate.

In January, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve Merced's participation in the program. The county began distributing the cards Tuesday.

For lists of participating pharmacies and locations to pick up a card, go to www.co.merced.ca.us/RxCard.

For more information or to get price estimates for your prescriptions, call 877-321-2652 or go to www.caremark.com/naco.

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