CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) today announced plans to offer members significant savings on out–of–pocket prescription drug costs. The company is waiving copayments for members who fill a generic drug prescription from October through December of 2004.
The initiative is part of a broader effort by BCBSNC to help members manage their prescription drug costs without sacrificing quality.
“We are launching this generic copayment holiday to encourage our members to talk to their physicians and pharmacists about whether switching to a generic drug might be right for them,” said Dr. Bob Harris, BCBSNC senior vice president and chief medical officer. “Generic drugs can provide the same therapeutic benefits as their brand–name counterparts but at far less cost. They meet the same rigorous health and safety standards set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as brand-name drugs.”
Generic drugs are the same as corresponding brand–name drugs in active ingredients, dosage, strength, safety and performance. Generics typically cost 30 to 70 percent less than the comparable brand–name drug. For BCBSNC members, the average monthly out–of–pocket savings for switching to an appropriate generic is $10 to $30, or an annual savings of $120 to $360. This does not include the additional savings they will receive because of the copayment waiver. The lower costs for generic drugs are typically associated with the lower marketing and development costs for those drugs.
To take advantage of the generic copayment waiver, members will simply present their generic prescription at a participating BCBSNC pharmacy between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. The copayment will automatically be waived when the prescription is filled. The three–month waiver applies to both new prescriptions and refills.
After the copayment waiver period ends, BCBSNC will launch a new initiative to encourage members to try generics when appropriate. For all of 2005, BCBSNC will waive the first copayment for a member’s new prescription for selected generic drugs in a variety of classes. These include generic maintenance drugs for treatment of high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and high cholesterol. These drugs for treatment of chronic conditions are typically taken daily, so members stand to save significantly in out–of–pocket costs by switching to one of these generic drugs, when appropriate.
BCBSNC members retain the option of choosing a brand–name drug, even if an appropriate generic alternative is available. Members cannot be prescribed a generic drug unless a physician specifically indicates that it is an appropriate alternative to a brand–name drug.
“We cover virtually all FDA–approved brand–name and generic drugs, and we will retain this level of choice for our members,” said Ron Smith, BCBSNC director of Corporate Pharmacy. “However, members typically pay more out of pocket for brand–name drugs because these drugs cost us more. This generic copayment holiday is an ideal time for our members to determine whether they can get their needed medications at less cost.”
The copayment waiver applies to about 1.1 million members who have prescription drug coverage through BCBSNC. Members of the State Health Plan and Federal Employee Program are not eligible because BCBSNC does not administer the drug benefits for those plans.
BCBSNC has also launched a series of online tools to help members with their drug choices. The company’s website allows members to search for generic alternatives for brand–name drugs. BCBSNC also recently launched PharmaAdvisorTM, an online tool that members can use to select a particular medical condition and find out the various types of drug treatments that may be available. A member can research the relative costs of those options and estimate their out–of–pocket costs. BCBSNC is making PharmaAdvisor available through a relationship with Subimo, LLC, a leader in providing innovative health–related decision support tools for consumers.
The copayment waiver is a part of a larger BCBSNC effort to promote appropriate use of lower–cost generic drugs. Last year, the company sent letters to about 15,000 customers to inform them of generic alternatives to brand–name drugs. About 50 percent of those customers switched to a generic. BCBSNC has also communicated with participating pharmacies about the advantages to them and their customers of generic use and has recognized pharmacies with the greatest improvement in generic dispensing rate. Field representatives working on behalf of BCBSNC regularly meet with physicians to discuss generic drug issues.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to approximately 3 million members, including approximately 510,000 served on behalf of other Blue plans. The company offers its members the Blue ExtrasSM value–added programs, which provide discounts and information on a wide variety of health–related services at no additional cost. BCBSNC also offers life, dental, long–term care and disability insurance products. For 71 years, the company has served its customers by offering access to quality health care at a competitive price and has served the people of North Carolina through support of community organizations, programs and events that promote good health.
BCBSNC’s HMO and POS products have earned Excellent Accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), an independent, not–for–profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of health care delivered to people everywhere. BCBSNC also has North Carolina’s first and only NCQA accredited PPO plan – Blue OptionsSM. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Access BCBSNC online at bcbsnc.com.