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The Truth About Pharmacy Discount Cards

Customers may end up paying more for prescription drugs when they use certain pharmacy discount cards.
Published Online: Jul 10,2017
Joshua Pirestani
Aren't you supposed to pay less and save money when you use discount cards? Where pharmacy discount cards are concerned, this isn't always the case. 

In fact, you may be more likely to get ripped off than get a discount when you use such cards, according to a local news source. If you've recently used one, you might want to check whether you did get a discount on your purchase.

According to Doug Hoey of the National Community Pharmacists Association, "The discount cards are not all they're cracked up to be, in most cases."

Some companies offering prescription cards are not discounting, but instead are taking money from people who think they are getting a good deal. Ongoing investigations yield evidence that some customers end up paying more than paying less when buying medication. 

Do discount cards really work?
Some customers used a discount card to get a reduced price for a medication that costs $227, but they ended up paying $317. If they paid for the medication in cash, they could have saved $90.

Of course, the discount card can be used for other purchases, but not all of the time. How much discount you get will depend on the card that you're using.

For example, a customer who bought a discount card online only got a $5 discount when they used it in a pharmacy. In a bid to save more, the customer asked if there is a discount card available behind the counter.

Luckily, there was a RoadRunner Rx card available that would provide a 75% saving for a particular medication. Unluckily, the same amount of discount will not be enjoyed when used for other types of prescription drugs. 

Providers of pharmacy discount cards sometimes overcharge the customer, but limit how much a pharmacist could keep. In some cases, a pharmacy is only allowed to collect $1.50 for filling a prescription.

It is important to note, however, that there are discount cards by drug manufacturers and those from privately funded programs or so-called discount companies. The difference between these cards may not make much of a difference because drug manufacturers have contracts with discount card companies.

There may be price negotiations conducted on a patient's behalf, but the price that is agreed upon takes into account how much kickback a card company can get from a drug manufacturer. As such, there is definitely money that is lost from the consumers. 

Take, for instance, pharmacy discount cards offered by the Louisiana prescription assistance program. When the cards are used to buy medications, a prescription would cost $66, but only $17 without it.

You would think that the federal government, the FCC, and the FTC, would step in and put a stop to the blatant abuse on the sick and those who can’t afford to buy medications at the actual price, but they have not.

Pharmacy discount cards are advertised as free and convenient to acquire and use. But consumers are not actually getting the most beneficial deal out of them.

In the event that a patient is better off paying out of pocket for some prescriptions, professor of health policy at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, Dr David Howard, recommends that you ask your doctor if you can use older, less expensive drugs and if there is a generic medication available. 
 
Joshua Pirestani is the President and founder of the American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance.