Published March 23rd, 2020 by Stephanie
There are essentially two kinds of medication that people can buy and use. One is “off the shelf,” and this is medication designed for anyone to be able to purchase at a store and use responsibly. Cold and flu medicine or pills to manage allergies are examples of this kind of general consumer medication.
But then there are the more powerful and specialized types of medication that can only be purchased with a prescription from a doctor that has deemed it necessary to grant a patient access to this level of medication. Antibiotics, powerful classes of painkiller, and very specialized medications only advised in specific medical conditions fall into this category. This category, however, can be very expensive for many reasons.
Because these medications are more powerful, or more rare and specialized, this can affect cost. A prescription-grade painkiller, for example, will be more expensive and more effective than a typical headache/sore muscle painkiller available off the shelf. Another reason these medications are more expensive is because of long term use. If someone has a lifelong condition, such as diabetes, that person needs insulin for a lifetime, and over decades, that adds up.
One way to save money this kind of medication is to join a medication discount card program. But what is this, and why does it help?
Some people are lucky enough to have full time jobs at a company that provides health benefits like some medication expense coverage. Others can afford health insurance policies that have similar mechanisms in place, like copay, where the insurance company pays part of the total cost for medication. These solutions, while workable, require a bit of investment, or sometimes even luck, to access.
A medication discount card program is something that anyone can sign up for. It’s not like insurance, requiring an extensive policy to purchase. Instead, as the name suggests, once signed up, people receive a card that they can use when purchasing medication. At the time of purchase, the card is presented, and if the pharmacy is affiliated with the medication discount card program, then the discount is applied to the purchase, and the customer pays a lower price.
Of course, pharmacies are a business, and, like any business in America, they have a focus on maintaining profitability. So how does a discount card help with that if it’s letting customers buy medications at lower prices? Doesn’t this hurt profit? As always, the answer is not as simple as yes or no.
There is an intermediary organization within the pharmaceutical industry known as a Pharmacy Benefit Manager or PBM. PBMs occupy a “middleman” position, with an understanding of pharmaceuticals themselves, the climate of the pharmaceutical market, and the needs and concerns of pharmaceutical manufacturers, doctors that prescribe medications, and the pharmacies that fill out prescriptions.
PMBs work with discount card program managers to “buy in bulk” for special rates. As with anything in business, prices on individual units of a product get cheaper if you buy or service more them. A single book that costs $50 to print, for example, may only cost 30? when printed in the tens of thousands. Discount programs negotiate with and through PMBs to buy pharmaceutical products at a lower price. They then pass those savings on through the discount card.
There are many different discount card programs available, so people need to find one that is suitable for their specific needs. Different discount cards will apply different rates to medications. So, for example, one card may have a discount on insulin of only 15%, while another might have a discount of 35%. Your specific medication interests will be a large determining factor in which card is right for you.
Another may be your location. Not every discount card is affiliated with every pharmacy. If your preferred pharmacy doesn’t recognize a particular discount card, keep looking to find one that does. Some discount cards are extremely limited in their affiliation. Larger retail outlets that have their own pharmacies sometimes offer their own discount cards. Walgreens and Walmart are examples of this. They both issue discount cards, but, unsurprisingly, a Walgreens card is only recognized at Walgreens pharmacies, while the Walmart card is honored only in those Walmart outlets with a pharmacy.
Other cards are more wide-ranging and have negotiated program affiliate agreements across a spectrum of different pharmacies. For people that travel extensively or live in cities with multiple pharmacy options, this may be a better alternative.
There is also the matter of investment. Some discount cards are free, and the only thing you need to do is sign up for the card and, once registered, you are free to use it. Others, however, require a fee to be used. The Walgreens card is one such example, with an annual membership fee that needs to renewed every year to continue using the card. Walmart’s card, on the other hand, is free to anyone that wants it. For people that want to be smarter with their money, this free or non-fee consideration needs to be factored into the choice of card.
If you’re having trouble deciding which card meets your needs, try going to the USA Rx website, and look at the card that’s available here as your medication discount program. The USA Rx card fulfills many different prescription considerations that people may have. Like the best discount cards, this one is free, so there’s no initial payment or investment required, unlike the Walgreens card. Unlike the Walmart and Walgreens card, this card isn’t tied to only one outlet. Over 60,000 pharmacies across all 50 states in the country have partnered with this affiliate program to offer discounts on medicine.
It’s also easy to use since you can go online, sign up, and print out the card to start using, there’s no waiting for a plastic card to be mailed. Alternatively, you don’t even need a physical card at all. Keep a digital image of the card available on your phone, and present that to a pharmacist to get your discount.
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