Julia Lesselyong has health insurance, but her plan doesn’t cover a prescription sleep medication she takes. Still, the 25-year-old San Francisco resident has an option: a drug discount card that gets her 10 percent off the $100 monthly cost of the drug.
The cards, which are free, provide consumers with a discount of up to 75 percent off various name-brand and generic drugs.
While some drug discount cards are restricted to low-income individuals, others are available to anyone regardless of income, employment or insurance status.
"They’re really easy to use. It’s great," said Lesselyong of the Bay Area Drug Card she began using earlier this year. She also figures having the card would be even more useful if she becomes unemployed in the future.
"The card is designed for those who are uninsured, who are paying out-of-pocket for prescriptions, but it can be used by anybody. There are no eligibility requirements or income limits," said Kristina Palmieri of Partnership for a Healthier Tomorrow. The for-profit organization launched the Bay Area Drug Card in February in conjunction with partnerships it has with various individual charities, which receive a payment of 80 cents each time the card is used. Despite its name, the card can be used at drugstores nationwide that accept it.
Consumers who have insurance could also benefit from using the card, since it may provide them with a bigger discount than what’s covered under their insurance plan discount for a specific drug, Palmieri said. (You can’t get both discounts, only whichever is lower).
Discount drug cards are the result of card provider partnerships with prescription benefit manager organizations that negotiate with drugmakers to obtain large volume discounts for insurance plans. In the past, the savings were restricted to users of the insurance plans.
Now, the discounts are being passed on to individual consumers who sign up for the cards offered by the sponsoring groups that reach thousands of drugstores nationwide.
However, Kaiser Permanente and Costco pharmacies do not accept drug discount cards.
No-fee drug discount cards should not be confused with health discount cards, which became the subject of controversy earlier this year.
Some providers to California residents of health discount cards, which charge a fee for providing discounts on doctor visits and other health services, are now the subject of a state licensing crackdown after consumers complained they were not getting access to the promised services.
Even though discount drug cards are free, consumers still have to do some research before choosing a card, said John Simpson, consumer advocate with Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog.
"(Consumers) have to take the time to shop around and see what the best deal would be for them," Simpson said.
Before selecting a card, make sure that it provides discounts on the drugs that you take, he said.
"In all of these cases, the particular deal that the provider of the card has negotiated with the particular drug company can be different," he said. "Most (cards) have a Web site where you can go online and you can check the drugs you know you are using, which are the cheapest. You’ve got to do some research. Some of them can get better deals."
Some government agencies also provide free drug discount cards such as the www.larxcard.com for people who live and work in Los Angeles County.
At this time, there is no similar government-issued card in the Bay Area nor is there a state-issued card.
Another free discount card to help with drug costs is available through www.togetherrxaccess.com, an income-based program backed by pharmaceutical firms that serves people who do not have prescription drug coverage or Medicare.
Also, check out www.rxassist.org, which provide information about patient assistance programs offered by drug companies that provide free medications to people who cannot afford their prescriptions.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-952-2690.