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Attorney General Lockyer Urges California Seniors to Be Careful Before Buying Prescription Drug Discount Cards Under New Medicare Program

Friday, April 30, 2004
Contact: (415) 703-5837

(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today urged California seniors to obtain as much information as possible before they buy a prescription drug discount card under the new Medicare program to ensure the purchase makes financial sense for them.

"Our seniors have paid exorbitant prices for prescription drugs for too long, and they cannot afford false hope and false promises," said Lockyer. "Seniors should make sure they will benefit before they purchase a discount card. If they decide to buy a card, they should consult with family and friends, and shop wisely, to ensure they make the best choice."

Lockyer warned seniors to be on guard against fraudulent solicitations. Deceptive sales practices already have occurred in other states. Seniors should especially be careful about buying cards from non-Medicare-approved companies, said Lockyer, and about giving out personal identification information. He added consumers should never provide solicitors their bank account numbers or passwords.

Seniors can start buying the new prescription drug discount cards on May 3, 2004. The cards will not be effective, however, until June 1, 2004. The Medicare program is endorsing certain discount cards as a way to achieve savings, but these cards may not be right for all older consumers or Medicare beneficiaries. Middle-income seniors in HMOs or low-income seniors in Medi-Cal likely do not need discount cards.

The cards may provide purchasers savings of 10 percent to 25 percent off retail prescription drug prices. The discount cards will be offered by private businesses and organizations. Medicare will only approve discount cards that meet certain standards, such as providing a range of different categories of discounted drugs, access to local pharmacies, and regular price comparisons for discounted drugs.

While companies offering Medicare-approved discount cards can charge an annual fee of up to $30, about 25 percent of the companies will not charge a fee.

Since Medicare beneficiaries can purchase only one prescription drug discount card until January 2006, California seniors should study each card's features carefully. Before buying a card, seniors should find out if the card is approved by Medicare, and if it covers the drugs they use.

They should determine how much they would save by figuring how much they spend each month on each drug they use, then compare that number to how much they would pay for those drugs with the card. The law permits companies to change coverage at any time. So before buying a card, seniors should ask about the company's policies on coverage revisions. Starting later this month, beneficiaries will be able to compare drug-card prices online at www.medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.

Seniors should report deceptive or unfair practices by discount drug card sellers to the Attorney General Office. Consumers can file complaints online at http://www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/mailform.htm or by writing to the Attorney General's Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244-2550.

Following is a list of Medicare-approved card sponsors who will be offering prescription drug discount programs to Medicare recipients throughout the nation:

Aetna Health Management LLC; Caremark Advantage, Inc.; Catalyst Rx; Medco Health Solutions Inc.; PMB Plus Inc.; PharmaCare Management Services Inc.; Pharmacy Care Alliance Inc.; Scrip Solutions LLC; SXC Health Solutions Inc.; United Healthcare Insurance Co. (with AARP); WellPoint Pharmacy Management; Express Scripts Inc.; Argus Health Systems Inc.; Computer Sciences Corp.; WHP Health Initiatives Inc.; AdvancePCS Health LP; First Health Services Corp.; and Long Term Care Pharmacy Alliance LLC.

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