Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The cost of prescription drugs is rising faster than any other component of health care--as much as 20 percent this year, according to estimates. With those escalating prices in mind, several states are making efforts to help older citizens deal with the pocketbook pressure of paying for their medicines.
In Portland, Maine, the Department of Health and Human Services eyed busing elderly residents to Canada to buy cheaper-priced prescription drugs--something several other border states do. For Portlanders, that would be an expensive and tedious eight-hour trip. So the city put them on a virtual bus. The office of Elder Affairs taught about 30 retirees who were not computer literate how to use the Internet and navigate to a site called The Canadian Drugstore to fill their prescriptions. "We were the electronic middleman," says Gerald Cayer, director of HHS. "We were the bus."
A broad mix of North Carolina organizations--from hospitals to county health departments to not-for-profits--have been awarded grants from the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission to set up prescription centers to help seniors and low-income individuals find free, low-cost or discounted medications. Using a software program from the Department of Health and Human Services that can search for the least expensive way to buy a medicine, citizens can plug in their age, income, medications and other information, and the program will analyze all the choices available--from state and local to private alternatives.
Arizona is launching a discount card for seniors to buy presciption drugs. The medicines will be provided by a network of pharmacies at a reduced cost negotiated by the state.
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