Saving Money With Discount Drug Cards Is Sometimes Tricky

Heather Johnson - Author
By

Jun. 15 2013, Updated 9:36 p.m. ET

Discount drug cards promise to help patients obtain prescription medications at a more affordable price, especially for individuals who lack medical prescription insurance. However, a Google search for “discount drug cards” yields dozens of results. How is the average person supposed to know which discount drug cards will provide the best savings?

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Edgar Dworsky, the founder of Consumer World, recently conducted an informal price comparison of four prescription drugs using five different discount drug cards. After checking the prices of two brand name medications and two generic medications at CVS, Costco, and one independent pharmacy, Dworsky discovered an average savings of 16 percent by using the discount drug cards. However, the range of savings for the five different discount drug cards ranged between zero to 71 percent off the cash price of the medication.

In other words, although the use of discount drug cards can help save a patient money on medications, the savings is neither consistent nor guaranteed.

For example, the cash price of a 30-day supply of the generic version of the cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor was $39.99 at CVS. The price for the medication was reduced to $19.02 with a Simple Savings card, $33.30 with a National League of Cities card, $35.99 with an AAA card, and $38.99 with an AARP card. The price of the drug remained the same with an Una Rx card. However, at Costco, the cash price of the same medication was only $5.90. Presenting the AARP and Costco’s discount drug card resulted in a discount of about $1.

As Dworsky concludes:

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“If you don’t have prescription coverage, you would be foolish not to get one of these cards, particularly the free ones, because it is such an easy way to save money.”

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Unfortunately, Dworsky also determined that figuring out which of the many available discount drug cards will offer the best savings is “nearly impossible.” Many pharmacies are reluctant to provide customers with prices without a prescription. Pharmacies sometimes must pay a fee to a third-party to process the request and thus do not want to check the price to avoid paying the fee.

Michael DeAngelis, a CVS spokesperson, also added in an email to Consumer World:

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“Prices under these discount programs will vary and it is not possible to provide a specific price without running a patient’s actual discount card as part of a transaction for a real prescription in order to quote a price.”

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DeAngelis also added that “plan designs may differ within a particular prescription discount program,” so “two members using the same discount cards may see different discounts for the same prescriptions dispensed at the same pharmacy.”

So, what should someone who wants to save money with discount drug cards do?

Dworsky recommends getting a couple of different discount drug cards and then checking the accompanying websites. Some discount drug card issuers offer some pricing information that can give a general idea of the discounts offered for various medications. Dworsky also reminds consumers that the best deal is the medication with the lowest price, not the percentage of the discount.

Do you use discount drug cards to save money?

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