Do prescription drug discount cards really help save money at the pharmacy?

Answer Desk

It’s open enrollment season -— a time when people are paying attention to their health care coverage.

Most of us want a plan that will give us the coverage we need without costing a fortune.

But, what about prescription drugs? Are there ways to save money on them over and above your health care plan?

This time of year, many of us are getting a letter in the mail offering free cards to use at your pharmacy for prescription discounts.

But, before you present that card to a pharmacist, make sure you’re actually getting a good deal.

It’s estimated nearly 12 percent of all health care spending in this country is for prescription drugs. 

The discount cards urge you to use them to save big bucks on your prescriptions —- and there are lots of different cards out there.

“Each discount card has its own benefits,” says Pharmacist Erich Engel of Raleigh’s Wellness Pharmacy. “The cards are not a replacement for insurance but can be used with insurance or for non-covered medications.” 

Engel sees a lot of those prescription discount cards at his pharmacy and says the 80 percent discount they offer isn’t always the best price.

“That 80 percent is based on an average and depends on the kind of medicine being reimbursed,” he said. “Most brand name medicines don’t fall anywhere near that.”

Many times says Engel, paying cash actually gets you drugs at a cheaper cost than you would get using the discount cards.

“Most times pharmacies will have a drug discount plans in the pharmacy that you don’t have to pay to join and will give you substantial benefits, usually below the advertised cost of these discount programs,” explains Engel.

He says you can also ask your doctor to prescribe generic or less expensive versions of a medicine to save money.

Many pharmacies also have access to coupons and other ways to cut medication costs because of deals offered by the drug makers themselves.

“There are a variety of different types of savings programs available from manufactures from free trials to discounting co-pays to even specific incentives for different types of insurance situations,” said Engel. 

In addition, many drug companies have discount programs for patients who can’t afford their meds, and a free service called RxAssist can help you find those programs. 

Before you decide to use a discount prescription card remember:

  • To compare cards because all programs differ
  • Discounts on the same drugs can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy
  • Read the terms of service carefully

 ”The problem with some of these discount cards is the way they collect information about you,’’ warns Engel.

The website Retirement Living has looked at some of the most popular discount programs and details their strengths and weaknesses in a lengthy report.

Because the discount cards are not insurance, you can use them whether you have insurance or not. But, you need to be aware, if you have insurance and use those discount cards then the money you spend on the medication will not count towards your deductible. 

Medicines you need should never be stopped just because you can’t afford it. Instead, work with your doctor or pharmacist and they can generally come up with a way to help you get the drugs you need. 

There is also an organization called the Partnership for Prescription Assistance. It has a huge database of foundations and programs that will provide funding for those who can’t afford medications.

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