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County patients to get mail-order drug refills

Thursday, March 10, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County is rolling out a mail-order prescription refill program in an attempt to cut down on long wait times for patients using its pharmacies, officials said Wednesday.

Following a pilot project, county health officials began phasing in the program March 1 at neighborhood clinics and started introducing it to patients at Stroger Hospital this week.

The county health system filled 2.9 million prescriptions last year, and officials hope that by the end of the program's third year, 900,000 will be handled by mail, spokeswoman Rendy Jones said.

That should relieve some of the pressure from the county's pharmacies, which are plagued by long lines where patients can wait for hours to get a prescription filled.

"If one pharmacist goes to lunch, the line gets at a snail's pace," said Rev. Tony Land, who gets medications for hypertension and diabetes from the county. "I think it's going to be wonderful. ... It's long overdue."

The county has a three-year, $8.3 million contract with Sav-Rx of Fremont, Neb., to run the program. It is using two subcontractors, Velma Butler & Associates and Chicago Medical Equipment & Supply Co., both of which are regular political donors to county officials.

The mail-order program is open to patients enrolled in the county system. It will only be used for prescription refills and for certain medications. For example, no controlled substances will be sent through the mail, said Mark Hechinger, the company's vice president and general counsel.

Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, who pushed for the mail-order program, said it will give peace of mind to chronically ill patients. He said it could also attract new patients, particularly the elderly, and bring more revenue into the county system.

"This will be a great invitation to open up the doors to tens of thousands of senior citizens to our health care system," Maldonado said.

He is confident that the mail-order program will cut in half wait times at the county's pharmacies. About 40 percent of the county's 2.9 million prescriptions last year were refills.

Federico Flores of Chicago said he first visited the pharmacy at Stroger Hospital in January after experiencing back pain.

After standing in one line to drop off his prescription, he returned later for pickup and "you stand in another line that's like Great America," he said in reference to the popular theme park.

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