Prescription Discounts

Prescription discount card programs help Americans save money on the medications they need. Approximately one half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug every day.

Even with insurance, the costs of many of these drugs have been rising and creating financial strain. Patients who participate in pharmacy discount card programs or use discount-finding apps can routinely buy their medications for substantially less than standard cost.

Not all discount card programs are created equal. Some are designed primarily for insured consumers while others cannot be combined with health insurance coverage options. Discount programs are not mutually exclusive, and consumers may enroll in multiple programs. Discounts do not typically layer or stack. However, buyers can use discount apps in conjunction with discount cards to maximize their savings. In all cases, consumers must take reasonable precautions to avoid scams and identity theft when enrolling in prescription savings card programs or downloading related apps.

How Prescription Discount Cards Work

To understand how prescription discount programs work, it is necessary to first understand the uneven and inconsistent nature of prescription drug pricing. Pharmacies, hospitals and other distributers purchase medications in bulk from pharmaceutical producers or wholesalers. Each distributor negotiates pricing with the producers or wholesalers they are buying from on an individual basis. Prices are often negotiated for each drug separately. As a result, how much a pharmacy pays for a given drug may be influenced by:

  • The volume of prescriptions for that drug that the pharmacy regularly fills.
  • Whether the drug is a generic or protected name-brand
  • The population the pharmacy serves, its purchasing habits and its average income levels.
  • Whether the pharmacy is a 340b federal discount program participant.

A wide range of prescription discounts based on these factors come into play during the negotiation process. However, these savings have traditionally benefited only supplier and have not translated into noticeable price reductions for consumers. Prescription discount card companies bargain with pharmacies, wholesalers and distributers to shift these savings to enrolled buyers.

Some discount cards cannot be used with health insurance because insurance companies have their own separate standards. These standards may be formulated on entirely different criteria and incompatible with other pricing structures.

How to Use Prescription Savings Cards When Purchasing Medications

How consumers use their Rx discount cards when making purchases can significantly impact their overall levels of savings. Pharmacists recommend using the following strategies to maximize prescription discounts when buying medications:

  • Discuss your prescriptions with your doctor(s) and pharmacist(s) ahead of time to ensure that you are taking the most cost-effective drugs appropriate for your needs.
  • Ask about the cash price of your prescription and if it is different than the price using your health insurance.
  • Inform your pharmacist upfront about what discount programs you participate in and find out which program(s) offers the best discount for each prescription that you need.

Some prescription savings cards can be applied to online prescription purchases, as well. Consumers may wish to apply similar practices and questions to ensure they are getting the best possible deals when buying online.

How Prescription Savings Apps Work

Prescription savings apps can also help consumers save money, but they do so through a very different mechanism than prescription discount cards. Rather than negotiating discounts for consumers, these apps help buyers find the lowest prices already available as a result of pharmacies’ own contracts with their suppliers. Armed with this information, buyers can request to have their prescriptions filled at pharmacies offering the best pricing.

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For example, Nina has been prescribed Amoxicillin. Her insurance company requires a $10 copay on all prescription medications, so if she uses her insurance she will pay $10, regardless of the actual price of the drug.

Alternatively, she could choose not to use her insurance and use a pharmacy discount card instead. If the retail price of Amoxicillin at her local pharmacy is $16, the average Rx discount card might take her out-of-pocket cost down to around $4.

If Nina also used a prescription savings app, she might find that another pharmacy nearby only charges $12 for Amoxicillin. By filling her prescription at that pharmacy and using her discount card, her end cost would be approximately $3.

Clearly, the higher the cost of a consumer’s prescriptions the more money he or she has the potential to save by layering the benefits of prescription savings apps and prescription discount cards.

Selecting Prescription Savings Cards

Finding the best prescription discount card for your needs begins with considering a few key factors.

  • Some Rx discount cards work nationally. Others only apply to specific geographic areas, such as a city or state. Consumers who travel often or who maintain multiple homes may benefit from a nationally relevant card, even if it offers a lower discount percentage than a local use only card.
  • Consumers who have been prescribed expensive specialty medications may wish to screen potential discount cards and elect to enroll only in programs that provide discounts on those critical medications.
  • Store-brand cards that are only accepted at certain pharmacy chains can limit consumers’ ability to fill their prescriptions at whichever local distributor is offering the best baseline pricing. Alternatively, consumers can find themselves forced to enroll in multiple store-brand programs to gain that flexibility. A single regional or national card, by contrast, might be accepted at all of a consumer’s local pharmacies.
  • Not all prescription savings card programs offer free enrollment. Before enrolling in a paid program, it is essential that consumers do some preliminary math to verify their savings over the course of the year will more than balance out the cost of enrollment.
  • Consumers should carefully guard their personal identifying information to prevent identity theft. Most prescription discount card programs do not ask for anything more than consumers’ names and email addresses. Programs that mail physical cards to enrollees may request mailing addresses, as well. Consumers should never give out their Social Security Numbers or other sensitive information when enrolling in prescription savings card programs.

Government-backed cards, such as the OreganRx card, are generally guaranteed to be safe. Consumers seeking non-governmental pharmacy discount cards that have been vetted for safety can refer to the list published and regularly updated by the intersectional Partnership for Prescription Assistance.

Choosing Prescription Savings Apps

When deciding which Rx savings apps to use, it is important that consumers prioritize safety and use common sense. Like discount cards, savings apps should not require sensitive personal identifying information to download or use.

Consumers should also evaluate apps for cost, user-friendliness and range. As with prescription savings cards, different apps may target or specialize in specific areas or types of medication or may have comprehensive and national range. Consumers should consider their personal needs and priorities and select the app that best accommodates their lifestyles and purchasing priorities.

Well-regarded apps for consumers just getting started with prescription savings apps include GoodRx, LowestMed, Prescription Saver and OTC plus.

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