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Pharmacy Discount Cards: Do They Help Or Hurt?

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  As health insurance plans change and prescription drug costs rise, some Floridians are looking to cut costs. One option is a prescription discount card. They work as coupons offering a reduction in the actual cost of prescriptions.

“The discount can range anywhere from 10 to 80 percent,” Britni Manners says, a regional manager for the discount card program FloridaRx. “I’ve seen drugs that cost $250 go down to $100.”

But one healthcare industry expert has her doubts.

“Often it is what I would call a loss leader,” says Rose Naff, the CEO of Florida Health Choices–an online health insurance marketplace.

“So sometimes they’ll offer a free program. That’s really just a way of getting the consumer to register with the program and have the opportunity to direct market them to other products.”

Naff’s organization tried a prescription discount card system, but soon removed it for lack of interest.

She warns consumers considering discount cards to think carefully.

“No I don’t recommend them,” Naff says. “I’m always a little leery about free, online offerings.”

FloridaRx says it does not share personal information.

Meanwhile, there are others who argue that discount cards can benefit consumers in special circumstances, like if health insurance coverage for a prescription changes.

Lisa Gill–a deputy editor for Consumer Reports–says if the price of a certain prescription goes up, even with health insurance coverage, she suggests a private discount card could be used instead.

“You take your prescription to the pharmacy, even for a drug that you take all the time, and you learn that when you’re filling the prescription that the price has suddenly gone up,” Gill says. “You might want to try an alternative. That’s where we suggest you essentially start shopping around.”

But Gill also says consumers should read the fine print:

“They are not to be used with your insurance,” she says. “These are good to use if your insurance is not covering a medication, or doesn’t cover it very well, and you’re looking for a better deal than your insurance can offer.”

As it turns out, sometimes the best discounts come from just asking a pharmacist, according to Michael Jackson–the Executive Vice President and CEO of the Florida Pharmacy Association.

“In some cases, some of our members say they can provide better discounts just by working directly with the patient rather than the use of one of these discount cards,” Jackson says. “It is a benefit, but a lot of times these discounts are provided, ordinarily, by the pharmacies anyway.”

So, pharmacy discount cards can help in certain circumstances,but consumers should consider all their options carefully to make the choice that’s best for them.