By Jennifer Heldt Powell
The Boston Herald Bay State residents who don’t have health insurance will soon have a way to get drug discounts similar to those given to insurers and other large buyers. The organizers of Citizens Energy, best known for providing home heating oil to the poor, will unveil an initiative today called Citizens Health, which will offer drug discount cards to the public for a small annual fee. Participants “will save a certain amount on branded drugs and even more on generic drugs,” said Joseph P. Kennedy II, the Citizens chief who is spearheading the effort. Consumers would pay $12 a year for the card, which can be used at about 65 percent of drug stores in the state, including most independent and some chain outlets. Discounts are expected to average 40 percent. “A lot of (drug discount programs) are pit-offs, they charge a very high price for the card and the discounts aren’t that high,” Kennedy said. “This is the cheapest card available and the discounts are there.” Increasingly, groups are offering cards that provide discounts on drugs as well as other medical services because government reform has been so slow, said Jim Jacobson, a Boston health care lawyer. “It’s something that can be done here and now while Congress still debates,” he said. Initially the Citizens card will be available to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island residents. The new program is similar to a proposal Kennedy pushed on Beacon Hill. Though it won passage and was signed by the governor, it was never enacted. “After watching the antics that occurred on Beacon Hill, I said we could just go out and do this ourselves -- that’s what we’ve tried to do,” Kennedy said. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford) said he is disappointed that the acting Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican, didn’t set up a state-run discount plan. “In this economic climate, we cannot afford to send off a Christmas gift to the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. The state could have gotten better discount because it can create a larger buying pool to leverage bigger discounts, he said.