Between 2014 and 2020, prescription drug prices rose faster than other healthcare costs. During that period, drug pricing rose 33%, yet other healthcare costs rose between 19%-30%. These high prices lead many seniors to face the possibility of paying large sums out-of-pocket for their medications, even when they are insured. Some seniors can turn to state or federal prescription assistance programs, but not all qualify due to their income limits. Some patients take advantage of “copay cards” (copay assistance) offered directly by drug manufacturers instead. However, such programs are often quite limited, and the manufacturers may cut off all assistance after reaching a certain number of refills.
Due to the limits of both government and manufacturer-sponsored programs, many seniors are now turning to prescription discount cards that are offered by third parties such as Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) or tech startups. These discount programs can sometimes reduce a medication’s cash price to the point that it’s cheaper than the copay you’d be charged through insurance, and offer significant savings for the uninsured. They also usually offer tools that help seniors compare prices at various pharmacies, finding them the most budget-friendly options.
Prescription discount cards and the discount programs associated with them are appealing, but new users often have a host of questions about what they are and how they work. “Is the card free?”, “how much can I actually save?” and “can I use this card at any pharmacy?” are just a few of the many prescription discount card questions that this guide will answer for you. Below you’ll find breakdowns of the pros and cons of the top eight prescription discount cards currently available. At the end of the guide, you’ll also be able to go in-depth by reading 6 Ways to Maximizing Savings When Using Discount Cards.
Prescription discount programs and insurance coverage cannot be used to cover the same medication simultaneously. In other words, when you’re picking up your medication, you must either choose to pay the copay your insurance requires or choose to pay the cash price of the medication minus the discount that the prescription discount program provides. Ask for a comparison of the costs every time to make sure you’re choosing the best deal for that day and that medication.
|Monthly Program Cost||Offers Multiple Programs?||Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Average App Rating|
|SingleCare||Free||No||Up to 80%||4.6 stars|
|GoodRx||Free-$10||Yes||Up to 80%-90%, varies by program||4.8 stars|
|Blink Health||Free- Variable*||Yes||Up to 80%||4.6 stars|
|RxSaver||Free-$60||Yes||Up to 85%||4.6 stars|
|Costco’s CMPP||Free*||No||Between 2%-40%+||3 stars|
|WellRx||Free||Yes, access very limited||45%-80%, average of 60%||4.4 stars|
|Optum Perks||Free*||Yes||Up to 80%||4.5 stars|
|RxSavings Plan||Free||No||Average of 24%||No app|
*Almost all Blink Programs are free. However, the telehealth subscription option has a fee that combines the costs of specific medications with small fees for access to doctors. Subscription fees may be around $20 per month but are variable depending on the medication and other factors.
Note that in the “average app ratings” column above, the listed number reflects the average of the app’s rating on Google Play and the Apple App Store. Costco’s app is used to shop all Costco items/services, not just pharmacies/CMPP. App Ratings and all cost data were collected in late January of 2021.
SingleCare’s attractions include a well-rated app, a simple search tool for finding drug cost information, a convenient home delivery program, and a loyalty program that just can’t be found elsewhere. This brand’s pharmacy network is on the smaller side compared to others, and it doesn’t always have the absolute lowest discounts. However, SingleCare still stands strong as a leader in connecting seniors to valuable discounts.
|Monthly Program Cost||Free|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||No|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Up to 80%|
|Average App Rating||4.6 stars|
SingleCare’s discounts are offered at over 35,000+ pharmacies for more than 10,000 medications. It will be particularly easy to use SingleCare discounts at pharmacy chains such as Albertsons/Safeway, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, Kroger, and Rite-Aid, as well as at many independent pharmacies. When buying in-store, customers need to present a coupon/discount card that’s specific to that store. At the pharmacy counter, you use either a coupon you printed or a digital coupon that you saved in the app, your email, or a text message. These coupons/cards are easy to find on the SingleCare website. Customers also have the option of placing orders online through SingleCare’s delivery partner, GeniusRx.
Seniors should note that SingleCare is one of several brands that may send out an unsolicited discount card in the mail. Such cards from SingleCare are legitimate despite sometimes looking like spam. If a card has not been sent to you, you can also print discount cards/coupons from the website. You don’t even need to give the company your personal information (like your name and email) in order to get a card, but you do need to if you want to sign up for the loyalty program. Keep in mind that whether or not you “sign up” and give SingleCare your information, SingleCare will be given some of your personal and medical information by the pharmacy you use if you use a SingleCare coupon to make a purchase.
It’s always free to use SingleCare, and the special loyalty program can make it an even more beneficial choice financially. This brand advertises savings up to 80%, and in some places online it says that savings can average 60%. A 60% average is quite good, but keep in mind that few details were included on exactly how the average was calculated. Many discounts may still be lower.
When we did a pricing spot check on common medications in late January of 2021, we found SingleCare’s starting prices to be the highest or 2nd highest when compared to other discount brands. With generic Lipitor at $19.10 (highest), generic Zoloft at $10.75 (2nd highest), and Epipens at $431.85 (highest), its regular prices were often twice as much or more than those of competitors. Its delivery prices varied greatly, and we were surprised to see that the Epipen was not available for delivery. For a free program, SingleCare still has a lot to offer in savings, but it won’t always have the lowest drug costs.
GoodRx boasts an impressive variety of programs to choose from, a highly-rated app, and medication prices that are some of the very lowest available. This company’s specialty programs are particularly good for cost savings, with some offering discounts of up to 90% off retail price. One of its special discount programs even offers select medications completely free of charge. The drawbacks of using GoodRX include the fact that many of its programs have membership fees and that it has received some significant negative press due to consumer data privacy concerns.
|Monthly Program Cost||Free-$10|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||Yes|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Up to 80%, 85%, or 90% depending on program|
|Average App Rating||4.8 stars|
GoodRx has the most program options of any of the prescription discount companies that we cover in this guide. Therefore, explaining how to access GoodRx can be a bit complex. The GoodRx website itself provides excellent, thorough rundowns of its different programs/tiers of service. The main GoodRx program (free) and the GoodRx Gold program (paid) can both be accessed through the GoodRx website’s main search tool. The GoodRx/InsideRx partnership program for discounts on name-brand drugs can likewise be easily accessed on the main GoodRx website. However, the search tools and program details of the KrogerRx and AAARx programs that GoodRx powers for its corporate partners must be accessed on their respective websites.
Signup requirements vary greatly by specific GoodRx programs. The main free program requires no signup, nor does the partnership with InsideRx. GoodRx Gold and the KrogerRx program both have a quick signup process and minor fees (see below for pricing information). The AAA program requires that you be an AAA member and that you either call AAA to get your discount card or enter your AAA member number into a form online.
GoodRx programs also vary by the number of prescriptions for which they offer discounts, how many pharmacies at which they can be used, and other details. The Gold program and the Kroger program both work on a fairly limited list of common prescriptions, whereas the other programs have discounts for virtually all FDA-approved generics. The main program and AAA program can be used at the counters of over 70,000 pharmacy locations, but specialty programs tend to have more limited locations. Chains that typically accept GoodRx discount cards include Albertsons/Safeway, CVS/Target, Rite-Aid, Kroger, Walgreens, Walmart, and more. Delivery services through GeniusRx or HealthWarehouse are also an option.
GoodRx’s pricing does depend on the program you use. The main program boasts savings up to 80%, the AAA program up to 85%, and GoldRx ($6 monthly fee) up to 90% (though on a limited number of medications). The Kroger program also has a monthly fee of about $6, but it offers some medications totally free or at dramatically reduced costs. If you happen to take one of the medications on its narrow list, then the program could be a good fit for you.
The free GoodRx tier offered very competitive discounts when compared to other free/basic programs, with generic Lipitor costing 8.16 (3rd best), generic Zoloft at $6.52 (3rd), and generic Epipen at $121 (best). Its Kroger program often had the best prices among other paid programs, and its GoldRx program was highly competitive, too. Though not as stellar as the Kroger and GoldRX programs, the AAA program’s savings were very good. Seniors will have to weigh the costs of membership to each against the potential savings for their particular medications.
Blink Health provides seniors with a tech-forward solution to lowering drug costs. Best for those who like to shop online already, this brand is the only one we have featured that processes all payments through its own website. By doing so, it guarantees no pricing surprises at the pharmacy counter. Blink’s prices mostly fall in the middle of the price range, sacrificing some of the best possible deals in favor of more stable prices overall.
|Monthly Program Cost||Free-Variable|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||Yes|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Up to 80%|
|Average App Rating||4.6 stars|
With about 35,000 participating pharmacies, this brand is tied with SingleCare on network size. These two companies have the 2nd smallest pharmacy network among competitors. However, for most customers, Blink’s pharmacy network offers sufficient local options. In addition to being accepted at many independent pharmacies, this brand works with popular retail chains like Albertsons/Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Publix, and Walmart. With Blink, you can pick up prescriptions locally or you have them delivered to your home. In some cases, you can even use Blink’s partner services to meet with a doctor online who will write you a new prescription, which will then be shipped to you. This telehealth feature is limited to just a few medication types.
No matter how you opt to get your prescription filled, creating an account with Blink is mandatory (unlike many competitors). You will need an account so that you can process your transaction online. If you’re going to pick up your prescription at a local pharmacy, you first pay Blink online and receive a Blink Card which is your proof of purchase. You can save it on your phone or print it, but in either case, you’ll simply show it at the pharmacy counter to receive your prescription. In-network pharmacies honor the Blink Card as payment-in-full, and in their computer systems Blink is considered the payor. This is different from all other programs- with other programs, the discount company does not process the payment unless you order delivery.
Blink Health pricing can provide up to 80% discounts, though most discounts will be more modest. Pricing does vary slightly based on which Blink program you’re using, but not by which in-network pharmacy you use. Seniors should note that although there are different programs within Blink Health, none of the programs include an additional fee for membership, except for the telehealth option (details below).
Medication Pricing With Different Blink Programs:
When we compared Blink Health’s “Everyday Low Price” costs to medications from other companies, we saw that the costs ranked between 4th or 6th place for the lowest cost, depending on the medication. In the pricing spot check, Lipitor was $9.00 (5th), Zoloft was $7.15 (4th), and Epipen was about $367 (all prices for generic equivalents). Delivery costs vary slightly depending on the medication. It’s unclear just how much lower Quick Save costs might be for those who qualify for that program.
RxSaver stands out among competitors due to its advertised savings of up to 85% and its niche “advocacy” savings program for those with extremely high prescription drug costs. Seniors may also like this brand for its delivery option and large pharmacy network. Pricing fluctuations by both date and city were quite noticeable with RxSaver, so it may be challenging to predict medication costs over time when using this program.
|Monthly Program Cost||Free-$60|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||Yes|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Up to 85%|
|Average App Rating||4.6 stars|
With about 60,000 pharmacies in its network, most seniors should have no problem finding a nearby location that accepts RxSaver’s discounts. You can use RxSaver’s general cards or individual coupons at popular chains like Costco, CVS/Target, Kroger, Walgreens, and Walmart, or ask if your independent pharmacy accepts the coupons. Seniors should note that if you print a coupon, it may expire, but the general discount card will not. Otherwise, cards and coupons work the same way. You can simply download and print RxSaver cards and coupons, or you can sign up with your name, mailing address, and email to be sent a discount card in the mail. Like most websites/apps, RxSaver does collect digital information and may serve you targeted web advertising due to your use of the website.
When using RxSaver, you can find your local pharmacy with the best price by searching for your medication on the app or website. Your pharmacist will use the card/coupon you show them to apply a discount to your transaction. If you prefer using delivery, that option is also available through RxSaver’s online pharmacy partners, GeniusRx and HealthWarehouse.
RxSaver’s main savings program is 100% free, but its paid Advocacy program does cost $60 per month. That program is only intended for those who have chronic/severe conditions and extremely high prescription drug costs, and not all who apply will actually get into the program. The application itself is free. Due to the individualized nature of the advocacy program, we were not able to perform a price check on it. However, we did check prices for some common medications on the main RxSaver pricing tool. We noted that RxSaver carried mainly generics, but also some name-brand options.
In our pricing spot check of generics for Lipitor, Zoloft, and Epipen, we found that its prices fell in the middle. We saw the following prices: $8.32 (3rd best) for generic Lipitor, $8.09 (5th) for generic Zoloft, and $182.31 generic Epipen. Seniors should note that the epinephrine auto-injector (generic alternative to Epipen) for which RxSaver had a coupon was a different brand than what is carried by most other companies. For these same medications, RxSaver’s delivery prices were all over the board. Its delivery price for an auto-injector was unaffordable at over $600, while its Zoloft delivery price was about $3 lower than its pickup price, and its Lipitor was virtually the same.
Costo’s pharmacy services are actually available to the general public at very competitive prices regardless of membership, but those who have Costco memberships can get even better prices through the Costco Member Prescription Program (CMPP). This program shines thanks to its ease of use, incredible bulk pricing, and low-cost delivery. Its drawbacks include a relatively small network of participating pharmacies and a lack of options for filling prescriptions for small numbers of pills (such as 30-day supplies).
|Monthly Program Cost||Free for Costco members|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||No|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Between 2%-40%+|
|Average App Rating||3 stars|
You can use the Costco Member Prescription Program (CMPP) at any of about 500 Costco Warehouse pharmacies, as well at numerous other partner pharmacies in your community. Seniors should note that CMPP does not list the exact number of its participating locations, but the number is certainly far smaller than the several thousand locations that many other discount programs boast. However, participating locations are distributed across the entire U.S. and delivery is also available.
To use a CMPP discount, you simply need to show your Costco membership card at the counter or log into your member account online if selecting an online ordering option. You’ll never need to print or download any additional materials like coupons. For in-store pickup, there’s no additional enrollment needed beyond what’s required for a general Costco membership. For online ordering, however, you may need to fill out some additional digital forms.
Anyone can fill prescriptions at Costco’s pharmacies, but to get the prices of the Costco Member Prescription Program you do need to have an active paid membership with the store. Costco memberships usually cost $60-$120 yearly. For many, the membership fee for the CMPP is a moot point since they already have a membership for household shopping purposes.
Comparing the prescription drug costs of CMPP to the costs in other programs is a bit difficult because Costco tends to mainly carry “bulk” quantities of medications, meaning customers typically can only receive a 90-day supply instead of 30 days. This difference is something to keep in mind if you decide to do some of your own comparison shopping before committing to a program.
According to our pricing spot check, Costco’s prices for generic medications were among the best. For both pick-up and delivery, a 30-day supply was $7.59 for generic Lipitor and just $2.99 for generic Zoloft. Its Epipen generic was 4th best at $296, however. When you search for a medication from CMPP, you will see a variety of prices at both Costco pharmacies and partner pharmacies. Costco’s own price is generally the best.
WellRx, also called ScriptSave WellRx, is a prescription discount company that offers a free, user-friendly program. This program stands out for its convenient app which has fringe benefits such as pill reminder notifications and healthy eating tips. It’s also one of just two brands that offer a price alert feature that will keep you up to date on cost trends in your area. WellRx’s prices tend to fall in the middle of the pack. This brand’s primary downside is the largely inaccessible nature of its “invite-only” perks.
|Monthly Program Cost||Free|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||Yes, access very limited|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||45%-80%, average of 60%|
|Average App Rating||4.4 stars|
WellRx works much like any other discount program we have featured, offering a card that’s easy to print, download directly, or save digitally via text, email, and app. You don’t have to create an account at all if you don’t want to, though keep in mind that the company receives personal information about you regardless of your use of the card (this is typical for the industry). Those who do create an account have access to more benefits, like medication management features. Furthermore, anyone who has an “invite code” provided through one of the brand’s corporate partners may be able to access even higher discount levels or convenience features not included in the regular program.
Using this discount card is as easy as showing it at any of the 65,000 participating pharmacy locations. Popular participating chains include Rite-Aid, Kroger, Albertsons, Walgreens, CVS/Target, and Walmart, but many other chains participate as well. No delivery options are offered within the price tool, but the discounts may be applicable to some existing pharmacy chain’s own delivery options. You’ll likely need to call your local pharmacy to learn about your options. Seniors should note that with this brand, there’s really no difference between the “coupons” listed in the pricing tool and the general discount card. These coupons are merely offered for convenience, but the benefit should be the same.
WellRx’s search tool can be accessed by app or regular web browser, and it has some unique features, including an option to sign up for price alerts and other pricing tools. The search tool also has the unique advantage of allowing you to filter your search for things like 24-hr or multilingual service.
WellRx advertises that it can offer discounts between 45%-80%, with an average savings of 60%. This brand fared quite well in our pricing spot check, especially for a totally free service. Of the three commonly prescribed medications that we checked, it had the second-lowest price for each among other basic programs (i.e. when compared to the most basic program/free program that each company had to offer). At WellRx, we saw that generic Lipitor was $7.61, generic Zoloft was $6.13, and generic Epipen was $145.
United HealthCare’s Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) Optum offers multiple discount programs, including its basic program, Optum Perks, and its AARP Pharmacy Prescription Discounts which come in two tiers of service. Optum’s strengths include easy program access and low or no fees (depending on the program). Our pricing spot check revealed that Optum’s AARP membership tier offers its best discounts, making it an attractive option for those who already like using AARP member tools. This brands’ greatest liability is the clunky way its pricing tools work.
|Monthly Program Cost||Free*|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||Yes|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Up to 80%|
|Average App Rating||4.5 stars|
*The version of this program that has the best features/discounts is free only to those with an active AARP membership.
Depending on how you look at it, Optum has two to three different prescription discount programs. Its main program, Optum Perks (formerly called SearchRx) is free to anyone and is hosted on the main Optum website. This program has just one tier of service. However, the AARP Pharmacy program has two different tiers: one which is available to anyone, and one that is for AARP members only. The member-only program has the best discounts, and the regular Optum Perks discounts tend to be the smallest of the three tiers/programs.
Getting started with any Optum prescription discount program is easy. For the Optum Perks program and the non-member AARP program, you can simply download/print a discount card and start using it immediately with no sign-up required. However, to get the AARP member-only level of discounts, you’ll have slightly more to do for signup since AARP will need to verify your membership.
Using any of the programs is as simple as showing your printed/downloaded discount card at the pharmacy counter. Both AARP Pharmacy tiers can be used at 66,000 participating pharmacy locations, whereas the Optum Perks version can be used at about 64,000. CVS/Target, Kroger, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart are just a few of the larger chains where the Optum discounts can be used, and many independent pharmacies also participate. Pharmacists should be able to discuss with you when it’s better to use insurance coverage vs. when it’s better to pay the cash pricing using the discount provided through Optum.
Optum Perks advertises that it can provide up to 80% off of cash prices, though the average customer probably sees discounts that are not quite so high. The AARP Pharmacy program does not advertise a specific savings percentage, though it does provide some pricing examples on its website. In a pricing spot check that we ran, we observed that discounts for AARP members seem consistently better than the regular Optum Perks program’s discounts. Keep in mind that to benefit from the AARP member-only tier of discounts, you’ll need to keep up with an AARP membership cost which may be about $16 yearly.
From Optum Perks, we saw that generic Lipitor was $18.67, generic Zoloft was $17.02, and generic EpiPen $302.75. In the AARP program, members were able to get generic Lipitor for $7.45, generic Zoloft for $8.62, and generic Epipen for $109. Overall, the Optum Perks prices were some of the highest among competitors, whereas the AARP program for members had the best Epipen price among competitors, and its Zoloft and Lipitor programs were highly competitive. Although AARP members can get delivery services, those service costs are not listed online.
RxSavings Plan is a 100% free service offered by the PBM CVS Caremark. Though similarly named, it’s not related to its competitor RxSaver, which we profiled above. This no-frills, no-hype plan represents the perfect option for seniors who want a simple way to boost their savings. This program’s perks include its simplicity and its acceptance at over 65,000+ locations in all leading pharmacy chains. It’s a particularly great choice for those who like using their local CVS or CVS/Target pharmacies. This program’s main drawback is its marked lack of online shopping tools.
|Monthly Program Cost||Free|
|Offers Multiple Programs?||No|
|Advertised Savings on Cash Price||Average of 24%|
|Average App Rating||No app|
While available to anyone within the USA, the RxSavings program describes itself as being specifically for “those who do not have prescription drug coverage.” It can be used at any Caremark participating pharmacy locations, of which there are roughly 65,000. Its discounts can also be applied to any mail-order programs that participating pharmacies offer. Signing up for a discount card is very easy- you can do so online simply by clicking “print your card” and entering your full name and email. The entry of your phone number is purely optional. Alternatively, the website lists a phone number you can call if you’d like to sign up via phone.
Unlike many other programs, the RxSavings Plan has no individual coupons for medications. It just has a simple discount card that you’ll use at all participating locations for all transactions on which you wish to use a RxSavings Plan discount. Since this company offers no pricing search tools, you won’t know your discounted price ahead of making your purchase unless you call the specific pharmacy you’re shopping at. However, when you’re at the pharmacy counter, pharmacists will generally help you compare what your insurance copayment might be to what the discount price from RxSavings is, so you should always be able to get whatever is the best price for you.
The RxSavings Plan takes a refreshingly honest approach to how it advertises its savings potential. While the majority of other similar programs emphasize their “savings up to” statistics, this brand emphasizes its average savings statistics. To be clear, both “up to” and “average” savings are real numbers, but seeing the average tends to give customers more realistic expectations for what their own experience is likely to be. RxSavings plan states that it can provide an average savings of 24%. This average is derived from prices on both brand name and generic medications, but you’re likely to see the best prices for generics.
While this program does tell you the percentage you’re likely to save, it does not provide any data online about the prices of individual prescriptions. Most other companies let you search by medication, dosage, quantity, and location to learn your costs before you reach the counter. With RxSavings plan, you’ll need to call pharmacies and ask for their pricing after RxSavings plan discounts are applied. Due to the lack of an accessible pricing tool, we cannot say for sure how this program’s discounts rank in the pricing spot check that we conducted for other companies.
The prices of prescription drugs tend to be quite volatile, so any pricing data that we gathered for this guide should be seen as what it is- a snapshot of pricing in a particular time and place. When we collected pricing data on companies, we strove to do so with consistent methods so that prices would be as comparable as possible.
How We Checked Prices:
Each prescription discount card program is a bit different, but there are 6 key strategies you can use to maximize your savings with the majority of programs. Your understanding of, and by extension your use of, a program can be the difference between modest and more substantial savings in many cases.
The prescription discount cards from the companies we have reviewed work very differently than insurance, manufacturer coupons, government programs, and other common cost-saving tools. Review some of the high-level differences between discount cards and other programs below to eliminate any confusion you may have.
A Discount Card Isn’t Insurance
Most discount card companies include legal disclaimers in fine print that specify that they are not insurance. Because some of the claims of cost savings can sound similar to what’s offered through insurance plans such as Medicare Part D, it’s important to keep in mind the differences. In most cases, prescription discount cards just extend a discount opportunity to you, in the same way that a coupon clipped from a newspaper might, for example. The discount card doesn’t actually pay any part of your bill. In contrast, insurance is usually considered a “primary payor”- it actually provides funds directly to the pharmacy on your behalf. As discussed earlier, you cannot use a discount on top of insurance coverage to reduce a copay further. You must either pay the copay or pay the cash price minus the discount provided.
A Discount Card Isn’t a Copay Card
A copay card (also called a manufacturer coupon or “copay assistance”) sounds a lot like a discount card, but it’s actually very different. Some discount card companies will provide links to manufacturer coupons if they cannot offer their own discount on a medication, however. Review key differences below so you’ll always know what you’re dealing with.
|Prescription Discount Cards/Coupons||Copay Cards|
A Discount Card Isn’t a Government-Sponsored Discount
Over the years, both state and federal governments have established many prescription assistance programs for seniors. Assistance can take many forms, but a popular program called Extra Help is a good example of what’s available through government programs. If you have income below a certain threshold, you may be able to get help with the costs of prescription drug coverage that would help you lower your overall costs. Another example of prescription payment help is the Medication Copayment assistance that the VA offers to certain qualifying veterans.
It’s important to contrast prescription drug programs with government-provided programs so that there’s no confusion about what you’re getting. Discount cards can be extremely helpful for lowering costs, but they aren’t a substitute for other benefits that you may qualify for. They are also driven by profit motives and are less regulated than programs specifically designed for seniors in need.
Setting realistic expectations for what a discount program can do for you is key. A solid understanding of prescription discount program limits can help you avoid making errors that may otherwise cost you financially or just in terms of wasted time.
When you use a discount card, it’s usually because you’ve decided that the discount cash price being offered is lower than the copay you’ll be charged when using insurance. Since you’re forgoing whatever your insurance might have contributed were you to pay the copay, you are responsible for the total discounted cost of your medication. Even though you may have insurance, the plan does not get involved in the transaction in any way. Consequently, the purchase will not automatically be counted towards your deductible. By choosing a prescription discount card instead of a copay, you may find yourself reaching your deductible later in the year than you previously did. Some prescription discount companies suggest that you submit paperwork after your cash-paying pharmacy transaction, seeking reimbursement and/or credit towards your deductible. Companies that suggest this say it is possible but not guaranteed.
Additionally, simple mistakes or misunderstandings when using the programs can also be personally costly. Common situations that may lead to overspending include:
Many discount cards can be printed out and used over and over again at virtually any pharmacy, for any prescription. If you want to simply print it and only use it at your regular pharmacy, you’ll likely see at least a small discount on most prescriptions. However, if you go online and use the program’s pricing search tool, you may find even lower prices if you’re willing to be flexible on where you get your prescription filled. When you use pricing tools to compare shop, you may be shocked at how much costs can differ even with pharmacies on the same city block.
When using a search tool online, verify that the following is programmed correctly:
Most search tools will help you by suggesting possible corrections to choose from if you’ve spelled your medication wrong. They may also offer useful information like graphs on how the medication price has changed over time, warnings about side effects or medication interactions to look out for, or even information on how insurance typically covers the medication. Note that you’ll often be shown the pricing for generics only. Generics are almost always as good as name brand, but the slight differences can be therapeutically significant for a small portion of patients on certain medications. You can always discuss the pros and cons of generics with your physician if you are concerned. The availability of discounts on name-brand medications varies significantly.
As recently as 2018, pharmacists were hampered by “gag rules,”– legally binding orders from insurance companies that prohibited them from volunteering detailed information on drug pricing. If a pharmacist saw that the cash price was lower than the copay that the patient was about to pay, they couldn’t tell the patient that unless the patient specifically asked for that price comparison. In the past, you may have paid more than you needed to due to these limits on pricing transparency. Since recent legislation has done away with these gag rules, many pharmacists now go out of their way to point out a better deal when they see it. Pharmacists are often quite knowledgeable about drug pricing, and they care about helping their patients get an affordable deal.
Keep in the mind the ways that your pharmacy staff can help you with pricing choices:
When you’re about to purchase a medication, discuss the regular cash price vs. the insurance copay, at a minimum. Show whatever discount card/coupon that you brought with you, but be open to other suggestions that the pharmacist may offer. You shouldn’t expect pharmacists to always know how to get the best price, but in many cases, you’ll find them to have a good sense of what a competitive price is.
When using a discount card, your upfront costs are whatever the medication itself costs plus anything that the company charges as a membership fee. Many discount card companies offer a totally free membership tier, so you may have no membership fee at all. Alternatively, several popular discount cards are free to those who pay for memberships in a variety of other groups. For example, AARP, Costco, and AAA all have discount programs exclusively for their paying members. It’s usually recommended that you test some free programs before investing in paid ones. If, however, you are unsatisfied with the level of discounts available through a free program, don’t hesitate to look into any paid membership tiers that a company may offer. The small fee that most programs require can be worth it in some cases, depending on your needs.
Note that if a payment is required for participation in a discount card program, then the payment will likely be charged on a monthly basis, though not always. If you try a program for a month and see no financial benefit, you can cancel since there’s usually no commitment. You’ll have lost what you’ve already paid, but nothing more. However, always make sure you understand how cancellations of the service work before you sign up. If the membership is supposed to renew automatically via autopay, make sure you understand how to stop payments.
You may be surprised to learn that just like with buying items at the grocery store, the “price per unit” of medication drops when you increase the dosage and/or the number of pills you purchase at a time. Of course, you shouldn’t be increasing the amount of the drug you’re taking, just how much you order at a time. For some drugs, you can request an increase in the milligrams of medication per pill and just split the pills for yourself at home. You can often also request that you get a 90-day supply rather than the typical 30-day supply. Using one or both of these methods can dramatically reduce your long-term costs if done thoughtfully with your doctor and pharmacist’s help. Many discount programs encourage this cost-savings method. We detail some cautions and limits related to it below so that you can proceed wisely.
You should be aware that there are situations in which it won’t work to pursue “bulk” pricing for your medications. Medications that have extreme side effects, that have “street value”, or that otherwise have the potential for abuse will often not be offered in large quantities or high potencies. Each drug is different, and you can ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure. Furthermore, the FDA considers splitting high potency pills risky unless the medication has specifically been approved for such usage. Medications that only come in capsules or that have certain coatings like delayed-release coatings cannot safely be taken in split form. You should never split a pill without doctor and pharmacist approval.
You can simultaneously be enrolled in a discount program and various Medicare/Medicaid programs. However, you cannot apply multiple program benefits to a single pharmacy transaction. Using special discounts on top of Medicare or Medicaid would violate certain anti-corruption rules.
No, you don’t always need to switch pharmacies to get the benefits of a discount card. However, you may find that by switching pharmacies you’ll be able to get a better deal, overall. The downside to switching pharmacies includes potential delays with prescription transfers and the loss of relationships with local staff that may have been valuable to your overall healthcare experience.
Many prescription programs offer inexpensive home delivery options for medications, but it’s usually wise to shop around for the best deal. Some companies have lower delivery prices, while for other companies their pickup prices are better. While comparing discount company programs, be sure to also ask your own health plan about its in-house medication delivery option. Sometimes you’ll find your coverage is better for the mail-order program through insurance.
If you’re looking for a consensus on prescription discount cards from pharmacists, you may not find it. Some pharmacists love that they can offer these programs to their struggling patients, but other pharmacists are skeptical about the benefits of the programs. If you typically go to an independent pharmacy, you may find that you’ll be offered an in-house discount program as an alternative to the larger programs available online. Some pharmacies don’t approve of the fee and compensation structures that discount companies use.
There’s a lot of debate online and in the news about the way that health technology companies handle sensitive information about user’s health. Major prescription drug companies say that they don’t directly sell user data, but it’s certainly true that they share data for the purpose of advertising. Rules that protect healthcare data are surprisingly weak in some cases, despite the presence of HIPAA. While generally speaking, seniors shouldn’t be too worried about using a discount program, they should be aware that if they do so they may see an uptick in targeted advertising related to their prescription. Every time you use a discount card website or use a coupon that’s been provided, that discount company will receive some personal information on you such as your name, location, and the prescription you’re taking or searching for.