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Drug program still fairly unknown

09-Dec-2007: A state prescription drug program could save Eastern Oregonians big money - if only they knew about it.

"It's the best prescription drug plan that no one knows about," said Joyce DeMonnin, spokeswoman for the American Association of Retired Persons.

The plan, called the Oregon Prescription Drug Program, cele- brated its one-year anniversary this week and the numbers of those who've signed up is underwhelming. So far, nearly 47,000 Oregonians have enrolled - about 1,000 from Umatilla County. DeMonnin said thousands more could benefit.

"There's still about 8,000 people in Umatilla County who really need this," she said.

Scot Jacobson, director of Community Action Program East Central Oregon, agrees with DeMonnin and often mentions the plan to people who walk through the doors of Pendleton's CAPECO office.

"People don't know about it," Jacobson said. "It's open to anyone in the state of Oregon, no matter how young or how old."

The Oregon Prescription Drug Program started two years ago, but expanded to all Oregonians last year, after passage of Ballot Measure 44. Oregonians, one and all, now can enroll in the plan regardless of age or income and offers discounts of up to 60 percent on drugs bought at participating pharmacies.

Brenda Farmer, of Hermiston, signed up for the program in July by going to the opdp.org Web site.

"I went online - it took a few minutes," Farmer said. "The card appeared in the mail in about a week."

She took it to her pharmacy where an employee typed her card information into the computer. Farmer hasn't had to show her card again, she said, and since then has saved hundreds of dollars.

"Its made a huge difference," she said. "It's one of the greatest things I ever did."

Jacobson wants more people to discover what Farmer knows. However, when he tells people about the plan, some react with suspicion.

"They always think it's kind of a scam because it's so easy to sign up," Jacobson said.

The program isn't really an insurance plan, it's merely the state using its buying power to negotiate competitive discounts. The discounts, up to 60 percent, are highest for generic drugs.

People who already have strong prescription drug coverage won't save much money, but those who are uninsured or underinsured will find plenty of savings. Medicare Part D patients will find relief if they fall into the dreaded donut hole - a $2,850 gap in Medicare coverage, dubbed the donut hole because there's coverage on either side, but not in the middle.

Vafa Aflatooni, a pharmacist at Rite-Aid in Pendleton, said he has a stack of applications at the pharmacy. When he realizes someone is paying cash for prescriptions, he promotes the plan.

"Only about 7 or 8 percent of people are paying out-of-pocket," he said. "If I recognize we have a cash customer with no insurance, I give them an application."

Aflatooni has seen the cards since the program started, but not as many as he expected.

"It's way under-utilized," he said.

Jacobson urged people to consider signing up for the plan.

"People think, 'What's the catch,' " he said. "But, there is no catch."

Source: EastOregonian.info

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