Contrasting a seeming constant barrage of price increases, a new program is providing prescription drug cost relief for Virginians across the state.

Officially introduced on April 16, the prescription-discount Virginia Drug Card is available to every resident regardless of age, income, health condition or insurance status.

"It's just a way to help," Francesco Ciccone, VDC program director, said Monday. In states that offer identical programs, card-carriers save an average of 30 percent on their prescription drug expenditures, he said. Using the card can save up to 70 percent on generic medication and up to 50 per cent on name brands.

Since the card's inception nationwide in 2006, more than $100 million has been saved, Ciccone said. Local pharmacies honoring the card include Commonwealth, CVS, Kmart and Modern. To get the card, Virginians can log on to www.virginiadrugcard.com. No Internet connection is no problem, though, Ciccone said. Interested residents can go to Kmart and mention the card to get savings. Pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies are footing the costs, saving the state and federal government as well.

"Pharmacies wanted to get a loyal customer (base) in hopes of selling more of their goods, like greeting cards, or whatever else, at the store," Ciccone said.

"Pharmaceutical companies are doing it, of course, because they want to be the good guy." There's no catch, no new taxes; it's simply a little pocketbook relief. And with gas and milk costing what they do, it seems like Virginia residents could use a little relief.

By early Monday morning, 13,418 cards had been downloaded from the Web site, and 287 had been mailed out, Ciccone said.

What makes the card particularly useful is that even people with insurance can utilize it, he said. There are a lot of government-assisted programs that help the poor, Ciccone said, but this program helps people with health insurance struggling to pay for pills as well.

"The buzzword (recently) has been Health Savings Accounts," he said, referring to flexible savings accounts many insurance plans offer.

The problem with those, Ciccone explained, is that the carrier has to pay enough out of pocket to reach the deductible before the employer-sponsored insurance money kicks in. In addition, he said, plans often do not cover non-formulary and experimental drugs.

Health insurance has become a dominating topic in times of economic uncertainty and presidential debates. As people increasingly are forced to choose between food, gas and medicine, the number of cards downloaded already indicates that people seem eager to save. "It isn't a cure," Ciccone said, "but it surely does help."

Contact Sarah Arkin at sarkin@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7983.