Palmetto Electric offers discount cards for medical services, local businesses

July 3, 2009 

Palmetto Electric Cooperative has distributed cards offering discounts at pharmacies and other businesses.

Organizers hope the program will help the cooperative's more than 66,000 members save money.

More than 200 local and national businesses are participating in Co-op Connections by offering discounts for card-carrying Palmetto Electric members.

If traveling, cardholders also can access discounts provided by more than 250 other cooperatives around the county.

The pharmacy discounts probably will be most helpful for members who have little or no prescription drug coverage from an employer, Palmetto Electric spokesman Jimmy Baker said.

Cardholders also can sign up for discounted dental, vision and hearing care and products at participating providers, but they do not have to, Baker said.

The program will cost Palmetto Electric about $20,000.

"Our only cost is the cost of the cards and the public relations materials we distribute," Baker said.

Palmetto Electric paid for the program by reallocating existing marketing funds, so it will not affect rates, he said.

Palmetto Electric is one of more than a dozen cooperatives in South Carolina that joined a national program earlier this year, Baker said.

"We decided this was a program we'd like to collectively get behind," Baker said.

Touchstone Energy, an alliance of more than 680 cooperatives in 46 states, designed the program about five years ago to build brand loyalty, he said.

Individual cooperatives offered similar programs, but Touchstone wanted to expand on them, said program specialist Scott Bialick.

Nationwide, cooperatives' members have saved $8.7 million at pharmacies alone in the past two years, he said. The cards offer discounts of 10 to 60 percent on prescriptions at more than 56,000 pharmacies nationwide, including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Target.

An intern from the University of South Carolina Beaufort helped Palmetto Electric recruit local businesses.

In addition to most major pharmacies, participants offering deals include the Village Golf Shop, Palmetto Breeze, Cross Island Medical Center, Kayak Hilton Head, Island Recreation Association, Barnes & Noble, Six Flags, Omaha Steaks and Costco Wholesale.

Bialick said the program is a way for cooperatives to help members that is inexpensive once launched.

"It's not that much money," he said. "Once you do that, there is no more money being spent on it."

Palmetto Electric officials want members to think about the cooperative each time they pull out their cards to redeem a discount or see the program's decal on a cash register, Baker said. The gesture comes at a time when electric bills have risen because of factors such as weather and the price of coal that Baker said are largely outside the cooperative's control.

"We're limited in what we can do about that, but this is a tangible benefit," he said.

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