A Washington prescription-card program negotiated lower prices comparable to what insurers and other large buyers pay. About 400 pharmacies will honor the card.

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Imagine a card that will cut your local pharmacy’s prescription-drug prices by half.

Imagine that the card is free — and yours for the asking.

Thousands of Washington residents who pay full retail prices for their medications now can get relief, thanks to a state-backed card that will entitle them to the same discounts enjoyed by patients with insurance.

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How to get drug-discount card

Residents can get the Washington Prescription Drug Program discount card by downloading the enrollment form at www.rx.wa.gov or by calling 1-800-913-4146. The card is free to any state resident.

Two years in the making, the Washington Prescription Drug Program discount card makes Washington one of about a dozen states to harness the clout of the uninsured to negotiate discounts comparable to what insurers and other large buyers command.

“The uninsured pay more for prescription drugs than anyone else,” said Lauren Moughon, advocacy director for AARP Washington, a membership group for older Americans. “They don’t have the purchasing power. This is what this card does for them.”

The new discount card went into effect Feb. 1, and about 1,100 people have enrolled. The card will get an official rollout today by Gov. Christine Gregoire in Olympia and by state and community leaders in Spokane.

Shaving drug costs

Money-saving tips to help make prescription pills easier to swallow:

Generics first: Pharmacists in Washington automatically dispense generics unless you or your physician insist otherwise. But not all name-brand drugs have generic competitors; ask your doctor for medication with generic versions.

Ask for samples: Your doctor may provide you with a few days’ worth of medication. Also, buy new prescriptions in small quantities unless you’re sure you won’t be switching drugs.

Split it: You can save as much as 50 percent by buying larger-dose pills and cutting them in half. Use a pill cutter to ensure equal doses, or ask the pharmacist to cut them for you. It’s dangerous, however, to cut pills with controlled-release coating, which could lead to overdoses, or drugs such as blood thinners that must be taken in the exact dose as prescribed.

Buy in bulk: For drugs you take regularly, consider buying a three-month supply by mail instead of a monthly refill. Sometimes the costs are identical.

Shop around: Drug costs vary by pharmacies. Call or visit the stores for the actual price of your drugs.

Source: Washington State Health Care Authority, Seattle Times staff reporter Kyung M. Song

In 2005, Gregoire asked the state to create a drug-purchasing consortium. Washington later decided to pair up with Oregon’s drug-discount program to jointly negotiate with pharmacy-benefits companies.

About 400 of the 1,300 pharmacies in the state will honor the cards. In the Puget Sound area, they include Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC and Safeway. Officials hope eventually to enlist 1,000 pharmacies.

With the card, customers without insurance will receive at least 16 percent off what they otherwise would pay for brand-name drugs in stores. The savings would be at least 24 percent for branded drugs purchased by mail, said Duane Thurman, director of the prescription-drug program with the Washington Health Care Authority.

The discounts are even steeper for generics. Customers would save an average of 50 percent off at the store and 67 percent off for mail-order purchases.

The size of the discounts, Thurman said, are pegged to the savings that the state receives for its Uniform Medical Plan, which covers about 150,000 state employees and retirees.

Moughon of the AARP said seniors who have bought the Medicare Part D prescription-drug plan almost always would be better off relying on the insurance coverage first.

But even people with health coverage might benefit from the card. They include people with plans that do not pay for mental-health drugs or those who take medications that aren’t included in their insurer’s preferred-drug list.

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com

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