The Associated Press and Jordan Gentile
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - The Golden Buckeye card that Ohio seniors carry for discounts from retailers will soon help trim their prescription drug bills.
Gov. Bob Taft on Monday announced his long-awaited plan to provide discounts on prescription drugs to Ohioans age 60 and older and disabled adults.
Taft's Golden Buckeye program is expected to help more than 2 million Ohioans save up to 30 percent on prescription drugs. That number includes about 680,000 Ohioans who have no insurance or are underinsured for prescription drugs. "Nearly one out of three Ohio seniors lacks prescription drug coverage, and that number is growing every day," Taft said at a news conference inside a supermarket pharmacy.
The state began mailing new cards to eligible Ohioans Monday. Any Ohioan 60 or older can get a Golden Buckeye card. Those with an Ohio driver's license or who are registered to vote will get a card within eight weeks.
Those not getting a card can apply at senior centers or libraries beginning in mid-November. Adults with permanent and total disabilities also are eligible if they are 18 or older.
The program provides 13 percent off the average wholesale price for most name-brand prescription drugs and 20 percent off generic drugs, Taft said. People enrolled in the program can also get customer rebates of 10 to 30 percent off the average price on 55 preferred drugs.
About 380,000 Ohioans 60 and older without prescription insurance will qualify for additional savings if they have incomes below 300 percent of the poverty level, or about $30,000 for an individual and $40,000 for a couple, Taft said.
Cardholders also can save up to 40 percent through an optional home delivery program, Taft said.
Emma Harmeyer, a Price Hill senior who spends more than $100 a month on heart and blood pressure medication, says the discount offered under the governor's plan doesn't cut it.
"That's just not enough," Harmeyer said. "When I get two or three medicine bills coming at the same time of the month, it's really hard."
Dave Scharfenberger, director of Working in Neighborhoods Senior Action Coalition in Cincinnati, said any discount for seniors, especially if they don't have insurance, is a help.
But he shared Harmeyer's disappointment with the rate of discount.
"Is it significant enough?" Scharfenberger said. "No, because the cost of medicine goes up so much every year, and Social Security doesn't. What seniors would like is a reduction in the 25-30 percent range, at least."
The Golden Buckeye card program is the result of negotiations with lawmakers, who took 15 months to pass necessary legislation, and talks among the administration, drug makers and pharmacies.
Most drug makers and 92 percent of Ohio pharmacies are taking part in the program, Taft said.
Rep. Michelle Schneider, R-Madeira, says criticism that Taft took too long and offered too little was unfounded.
"If it was easy, anyone could have done it," Schneider said. "That's why the governor had to get involved. I think he should be applauded."
The announcement came a week after a coalition of unions and consumer groups reached agreement with drug makers on a plan to help those 60 and older as well as low-income Ohioans of all ages.
However, that plan still needs legislative approval, and Taft said it was important that seniors be able to get discounts quickly. Taft said if the Legislature approves another plan, the Golden Buckeye card could be used for eligibility.
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