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Suffolk employees must get long-term meds by mail

All Suffolk government workers must order long-term medications by mail as of June 1 as part of an effort to create annual savings of $17 million.

A memo is expected to go out to county employees this week announcing the initiative, which will require those who have prescriptions lasting from 21 to 90 days to order drugs by mail rather than getting them at a pharmacy, said Jeff Tempera, co-chairman of the Employee Medical Health Plan, which insures the county's 20,000 workers and retirees and 28,000 dependents.

The change will affect employees under treatment for long-term conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. Officials could not estimate how many county workers would be affected.

The Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, the probation officers union and detective investigators -- a total of 2,000 employees and 2,000 retirees and dependents -- already must order long-term prescriptions by mail.

The mail-order requirement for the county's $70-million drug plan originally was slated to begin April 1, after the county chose OptumRx as its new prescription drug administrator. Suffolk delayed the new requirement and rescinded the award to OptumRx because it could never reach a contract with the San Diego-based company.

Instead, the county has given the current administrator, Express Scripts Inc., a one-year extension; the company has agreed to give the county discounts it had offered in its bid and retroactively apply those rates to Jan. 1.

The unions agreed to the mail-order prescription to avoid cost sharing on health premiums for existing employees. New workers hired since Jan. 1 must pay a 15 percent share of premiums.

"I empathize and sympathize with employees who have been in a state of flux for the last few months," said Michael Finland, executive vice president of the Association of Municipal Employees. He said he was "very confident" the deal will meet savings targets.

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