Kennedy Launches Low-Cost Rx Plan

WORCESTER — Joseph P. Kennedy II yesterday launched his new low-cost prescription drug program at St. Vincent Hospital at Worcester Medical Center.

The former congressman and chairman of Citizens Energy Corp. is traveling the state promoting the nonprofit pharmacy program, which is aimed at senior citizens and people without health insurance.

Holding up the $12 blue card that entitles the bearer to drug discounts averaging 42 percent, Mr. Kennedy said the Citizens Health program will help those who are not poor enough for Medicaid but still have trouble making ends meet.

“People have to make terrible choices about whether they’re going to take the drugs their doctor gave them, put food on the table or turn the heat up,” Mr. Kennedy told a small crowd of hospital officials and area legislators. “It’s a very serious problem.”

Mr. Kennedy has lined up major drug companies and retailers in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island — including independent pharmacies, Brooks Drugs, Stop & Shop and Price Chopper — with whom he has negotiated bulk drug purchases.

Now he said the challenge is to make sure enough people use the card to keep the companies interested.

Te card is being promoted with the help of community groups such as the Worcester Community Action Council, as well with the donated billboard space and media advertising.

In addition to getting lower prices, Citizens Health card holders will also receive information about how drugs interact with each other and will be monitored to make sure they are taking the drugs in the required doses.

Mr. Kennedy said many low-income people try to stretch their drug supply by taking smaller doses, which is often medically unsafe.

“What we want to do is make sure the poor have the same access to health compliance programs that well-off or other insured people do,” he said.

Taking his turn at the lectern, state Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, a legislative health care expert, said Mr. Kennedy’s initiative complements the state’s own prescription drug program, which targets middle-income seniors.

“This is another important option for many people across the state,” Mr. Moore, Chairman of the Legislature’s Health Care Committee said. “Joe Kennedy has made this program work. The state is still struggling to figure out how to do it.”

Mr. Kennedy displayed an easy familiarity with the local political figures in the audience, developed over the years he has been coming to Worcester as a congressman and to distribute low-cost heating fuel with Citizens Energy.

He joked that Citizens Health marketing efforts will make use of all possible tools, including Mayor Raymond V. Mariano’s “list of every senior citizen who lives in the city of Worcester.”