Joseph Kennedy to launch drug program, possible 42%savings ???

  1. Kennedy to launch drug program

    Will offer discounts on prescriptions

    By Rick Klein, Globe Staff, 9/25/2001

    Former US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II today will launch a private drug-discount program that could save elderly and poor consumers thousands of dollars in medication costs.

    Kennedy said he has negotiated substantial discounts in drug prices with drugstore chains through his nonprofit Citizens Health Corp., a subsidiary of Citizens Energy Corp. Residents of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut will be able to take advantage of those discounts at more than 900 New England drugstore for an annual fee of $12 for an individual or $28 for a family.

    ''They can get significant savings in the cost of purchasing drugs,'' Kennedy said. ''It can ultimately save lives. They can save money and live healthier.''

    The plan, similar to a discount-club membership, is open to all, but is most likely to attract the elderly and the poor, especially those who lack prescription drug insurance or pay steep premiums for coverage, Kennedy said. The average medication will cost consumers 42 percent less if they participate in the program, though Kennedy cautioned that individual savings will vary greatly.

    Most major New England drugstores, eager to increase foot traffic in their stores and spur other sales, will participate in the program, though Walgreen's and CVS are two notable exceptions.

    Alan Sager, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, said he doubts that consumers will realize savings of anything close to 42 percent. Kennedy's plan will probably be hard-pressed to even make a dent in the spiraling costs of drugs, he said.

    ''This sounds like a well-intentioned effort that could help some people, and on balance, it's probably worth doing,'' Sager said. ''Unfortunately, it can tackle only a very small share of the problem of unaffordable medications.''

    Kennedy's announcement comes after several years of failed attempts to get the state to move forward with its own bulk-purchasing program. The Legislature has required the administration to establish bulk purchasing each of the past two years, but no major steps have been taken.

    In the summer, the administration of Acting Governor Jane Swift appeared ready to embrace the concept, at least on a limited basis. But those efforts now appear stalled, and a much-awaited report by the Heinz Family Philanthropies (circulated to top state officials this month) recommends against state investment in bulk purchasing.

    However, Swift administration sources said they will meet to discuss whether they can work with Kennedy's plan to offer discounts to seniors enrolled in Prescription Advantage, the new state-sponsored drug insurance plan for the elderly and disabled.

    Kennedy said he felt it was important to go ahead with bulk purchasing through Citizens Health without state government's participation. Bulk purchasing pools consumers to increase leverage in negotiating drug prices with big pharmaceutical companies.

    ''It was clear that the state just didn't want to move forward,'' Kennedy said. ''The state had an opportunity to save itself tens of millions of dollars a year. You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.''

    Some have worried that a large-scale bulk purchasing program would hurt Prescription Advantage, since both programs could compete for the same pool of people. Teresa Heinz, the wife of US Senator John F. Kerry,made that argument last year in asking the state to hold off on bulk purchasing so as not to harm Prescription Advantage, which was designed by her foundation.

    Kennedy said the state can work through his plan and save money for everyone involved by letting Prescription Advantage enrollees take advantage of the lower prices he's negotiated.

    Rick Klein can be reached by\e-mail at
    This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 9/25/2001.
    Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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  3. by   kewlnurse
    You really have to question the integrity of ANYTHING A Kennedy does.