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Fast answer could get seniors free medicine

In a state settlement, Medco will give up to $300 in generic drugs to 7,500 patients.

Published November 16, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - Eligible seniors could get up to $300 in generic prescription drugs under a settlement worth $2.3-million, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist announced Monday.

The first 7,500 qualified seniors who respond to letters sent out this month will receive the free drugs as part of the settlement with Medco, the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager.

Florida was one of 21 states that accused the company of pressuring patients to switch medications to improve its bottom line. Other states took cash settlements, but Crist said Florida's deal is worth 25 percent more.

In exchange, Medco agreed to inform patients of their option to decline drug switches.

"When we see something wrong, we try to fix it," Crist said.

The state Department of Elder Affairs will mail letters this month to low-income seniors - those earning less than $18,614 a year individually or $24,973 for a couple - who are at least 60 years old and are not covered by Medicaid. The letter will include a simple application form and a questionnaire, said department Secretary Terry White.

"We encourage people who receive a letter to respond quickly to this one-time additional prescription drug benefit," White said Monday.

Those who are accepted into the program will receive a welcome package from Medco guiding them through the benefits. The program expires April 20, 2006.

Under the settlement, those accepted into the program must ask their doctor to write a new, 90-day prescription for their medicines plus refills as appropriate. This is sent in or faxed to Medco, and the company will then send the generic equivalent of the patient's drug in the mail. No payments or co-payments are required.

The program covers most generic medications, and does not cover brand-name meds, insulin, over-the-counter drugs, medical supplies and devices, compounded drugs, blood products, allergy serums, immunizations, biologicals, vaccines, and experimental drugs.

Medco spokeswoman Soraya Balzac said the value of the generic drugs is higher than a cash settlement because the company's bulk purchasing allows it to pass those savings on to the state.

"Medco is certainly pleased that needy Floridians will be the direct beneficiaries of this agreement," Balzac said.

[Last modified November 16, 2004, 00:39:15]

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