Money-saving move comes with a cost

If Pasco drops out of the National Association of Counties, residents lose discount drug cards.

By DAVID DECAMP, Times Staff Writer
Published August 2, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - It looked like an easy cut as the County Commission began dicing next year's budget to find savings.

Dropping Pasco's annual membership in the National Association of Counties would save $8,291, so commissioners decided July 17 to cut it.

"Is there any reason we have to belong to NACo?" Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand asked at the time.

Here's one: Cutting the membership would kill Pasco's ability to offer a prescription drug discount card to its residents. Only association members get to offer the cards, which are free.

And popular, too. The card provides an average savings of $21 each visit, according to county and association records.

Pasco residents have saved $1.37-million since the cards were distributed in July 2006, second among 800 participating counties in America, said Andrew Goldschmidt, the association's director of marketing and membership. Florida has 19 counties offering the card, including Hernando and Citrus.

Association records show 64,162 visits for Pasco prescriptions over the past year using the cards, although that includes repeat customers. In June, 5,551 residents used the card to fill 12,305 prescriptions, Goldschmidt said.

On Wednesday, Hildebrand and budget director Mike Nurrenbrock said they plan to restore the money into the proposed budget during board meetings within the next two weeks. The budget takes effect Oct. 1.

"If it saves that kind of money to Pasco residents, that's a good thing," Hildebrand said.

Caremark, part of the CVS drug store company, offers the cards through the National Association of Counties, earning a small fee for each prescription filled. While the program is not the same as insurance, it covers some drugs that insurers might not. Goldschmidt said the average savings is 22 percent nationally.

About four out of five Pasco pharmacies accept it. The card sees a fair amount of use in this retiree-heavy county where up to a quarter of the people are underinsured or uninsured. One card is good for the entire family.

However, the linkage between the association membership and the discount card did not come up when the commission debated how to cut its own office budget.

Faced with slashing $15.8-million because of state-ordered tax cuts, four commissioners supported dropping the membership - including Hildebrand, who originally pushed for offering the card.

The holdout at the July 17 meeting was Commissioner Jack Mariano, who urged keeping the membership because of the group's power to lobby for Pasco.

"As far as I'm concerned, NAC is gone," Commissioner Michael Cox said then.

"I agree," Commissioner Pat Mulieri said. "We've got to cut."

Within a few days, however, staffers raised questions over the discount program's fate. Pasco community services director Adelaida Reyes called Goldschmidt to find out if the drug card would be affected.

Then she reported the news to county officials: Cutting off the membership means cutting off the card.

"There's no cost to the program for the county," Goldschmidt said. "All the costs, all of the support, is provided."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or 727 869-6232.

Fast Facts:

Drug discount card

A free discount drug card in Pasco County is available at most major drug stores, including CVS and Walgreens. The card also is available at county libraries and health department offices, Community Aging and Retirement Services offices, and other health and social service organizations. For information on the card, visit https://naco.advancerx.com or call (877) 321-2652.