Two of the region's biggest grocers, Giant Food and Safeway, have partnered with a national company to offer a discount drug program to all Maryland residents.

Free to all residents, the Maryland Rx Card provides savings ranging from 30 percent to 75 percent on all pharmacy prescriptions, branded or generic. United Networks of America administers the program; distribution and advertising are handled by the separate Maryland Rx Card program.

"With the cost of everything else escalating up, people need to be given the opportunity to take their medication that they can't otherwise afford," said Bob Stone, director of third party and managed care services for Giant Food, whose headquarters are in Landover.

Prescription drugs cost an average of $25 for generics and $100 for brand names, Stone said.

The Maryland Rx Card program has no income limits, age restrictions or applications to fill out. Although the program is intended for those with limited or no insurance, it can be used by people whose coverage doesn't include a prescription plan or for discounts on any prescriptions not covered by insurance. The card is accepted at more than 50,000 pharmacies in 33 states.

Stone said it is not fair that some people must choose between paying their bills and taking their medications "in this year, not in this country."

Giant and Safeway, with Eastern headquarters in Lanham, were named the Maryland program's preferred pharmacies. Shoppers who do not have a program card can still access the discounts through both chains, which might be more complicated or unavailable, at other, "non-preferred," stores.

Although some Maryland counties have offered similar programs, this is the first statewide program.

"This helps drive more traffic to our stores. Customers who might not have been coming here before now have a particular reason to shop at Safeway," said Craig Muckle, spokesman for Safeway, which also participates in Washington's program. "In this economy, people are looking for all kinds of value. It ultimately does circle back to competition and having the ability to provide the best value in the marketplace."

Brian Oliver, president of the United Networks of America Rx Card program, said Giant and Safeway were named preferred providers because of their accessible locations throughout the state.

Oliver said the Maryland program lacks partners and sponsors to help create awareness for the card. He said each program tries to involve private associations and nonprofits.

The program encourages people to buy more generic drugs, which carry bigger savings, Stone said.

Giant, which has been involved in Virginia's version of this program over the last year, has more than 100 pharmacies in Maryland. Safeway has about 77 stores in Maryland. Both chains have offered reduced-priced and sometimes free prescription drugs over the last several months.

Printable membership cards for the Maryland Rx Card program can be obtained through its Web site: www.marylandrxcard.com.

United Networks of America, of Baton Rouge, La., provides managed care products and services to 39.7 million people throughout 240,000 stores in the U.S., according to its Web site.