Thursday, December 11, 2003

Golden Buckeye and Best Rx can aid seniors

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ohio lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved and Gov. Bob Taft has pledged to sign a prescription drug discount program called Best Rx. But several questions remain about how the program will work.

Staff members for Taft, Sen. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, and the Ohio Department of Aging provided responses to several questions posed by The Enquirer.

Question: Will the new Best Rx plan replace the Golden Buckeye Card drug discount program?

Answer: No. The two will work separately. Seniors with the Golden Buckeye Card also will have the Best Rx card in their pocket. They can use whichever card offers them the best savings on a given drug. The discounts cannot be added together. Beyond seniors, Best Rx will be available to people under 60 if they earn less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($30,300 for a couple).

Q: Which program offers a better deal for seniors?

A: Too early to tell. Best Rx supporters predict the card will offer savings of 25 percent to 40 percent. Because Best Rx is supported by the drug industry, all major manufacturers are expected to participate. Only some drug manufacturers have agreed to participate in the Golden Buckeye program.

The Golden Buckeye card has been sent to more than 2 million people over 60 in the past eight weeks and has saved an average of 24.9 percent for the 125,000 people so far who have filled prescriptions using the card, according to the Ohio Department of Aging.

Q: What happens to Best Rx when the federal Medicare discount cards come out?

A: Seniors will be eligible for each. In Ohio, there will not be a separate Medicare discount card because the federal program will "endorse" the use of the Golden Buckeye Card - not the Best Rx card. Once the Medicare program kicks in next year (possibly in April), there will be a $600 debit available to low income seniors (at or below 135 percent of poverty, or $16,362 for a couple) that will be available through the magnetic strip on the Golden Buckeye Card.

The full Medicare prescription drug program starts in 2006. Best Rx will operate and fill the void until then. Best Rx could continue providing discounts even when the Medicare plan becomes operational.

Q: Again, which program is better for seniors?

A: Only time will tell. Medicare's program will cover seniors (and people with disabilities). Best Rx helps anyone regardless of age at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Q: When will people be able to get the Best Rx card? And will there be a fee to get it?

A: The state will start a six- to eight-month bidding process to select a company to run the Best Rx program. Sponsors predict the program will be up by July 2004.

There will be no fee for Best Rx, but people will have to apply. How long that process will take is unclear.


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