The bad news is that the cost of health care continues to rise, and many consumers find it tough to pay for medications. The good news is there are a number of consumer options for saving money on the medications your doctor prescribes. Read on to learn more about how co-pay and discount cards might be a good option for you.
First things first
Find out whether a generic, or non-brand, drug is available and appropriate for you. Generic drugs are a good way to save money, but for some patients, and for certain conditions, a brand-name drug may be needed.
Check out co-pay and discount cards to see if they will save you money on your prescription drugs. With many different kinds of co-pay and discount cards, it may be difficult to sort out which ones are right for you.
What are they?
Co-pay cards can be used to lower or eliminate your insurance co-payment, or out-of-pocket costs, for a prescription medication. A co-pay is the fixed amount that insurance companies ask consumers to pay toward their medication or other health services. The cards are typically offered by companies that manufacture brand-name medicines, although some generic companies offer co-pay card programs as well. Drug discount cards can help lower the price on medications. Most cards are available for free, while others charge a fee up-front to receive the card.
How do they work?
Co-pay cards may be available from your physician or can be found through the Internet, and are generally used to offset the cost of the co-pay for brand-name prescription drugs. Each program is different, but many require that a patient register prior to presenting his or her card to the pharmacist. As a patient, you give the card to your pharmacist when you get a prescription filled. The amount of the co-pay may be reduced or covered entirely. The pharmaceutical company that makes the drug covers the cost of reducing your co-pay when you use the card.
Things to know about co-pay cards:
Co-pay cards can help consumers reduce out-of-pocket costs for their brand name medication, especially for specialty drugs, such as those that treat multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis. Having access to cheaper medications means patients don’t have to look for cheaper, possibly less effective, versions.
- Studies show that higher patient co-pay amounts are linked with fewer people taking their medication as directed, or reducing medication adherence. With a lower co-pay, consumers will be less likely to skip taking their mediation.
- Some say co-pay cards encourage the use of more expensive brand-name drugs over lower cost generics. Some patients, however, must take a brand-name drug for medical reasons and there may not be a generic drug available that contains the exact same active ingredient.
- Co-pay cards CANNOT be used by people with Medicare, Medicaid, or other federal or state healthcare programs. The federal government is cracking down on the use of co-pay cards for Medicare part D drugs. There was a recent Special Advisory put out by the Office of Inspector General that “underscored that manufacturers are responsible to ensure that co-pay card coupons are not used by Medicare D beneficiaries."
- Many mail order medication programs do not accept co-pay cards.
Drug discount cards are often available online. The cards may be offered and paid for by state governments, pharmaceutical companies, non-profit organizations, or large retail store chains. Discount cards work through participating pharmacies that agree to offer lower prices on a variety of medicines (both brand names and generics), similar to the prices provided to insurance companies or large employers.
Things to know about discount cards:
- Be careful about any cards that charge a fee up front to get access to the card. The fees could add up to more than the discount itself!
- When using a free card, it is still important to consider the cost of your medication. The generic version may be cheaper than the discounted brand medication covered by the card.
- The card can be used if your insurance does not cover your medication, or if your deductible has not been met.
- A few discount cards can be used with Medicare (especially if you fall within the Part D donut hole), but you should check the individual card since this is very program specific.
Who pays for these cost savings for you?
Pharmaceutical companies that make the drug often pay for the cost of co-pay card programs, because their brand-name drugs become more affordable for consumers. Participating pharmacies agree to offer consumers discount prices for the medications covered by a drug discount card. In return, participating pharmacies receive more customers when people can afford to fill their prescriptions and get more traffic through other areas of their stores.
Be on the lookout
Once again, watch for cards with fees. Generally, you should not have to pay for a co-pay or discount card. Most are available without any fee.
Guard your personal information. Be careful about giving out any personal information to get a card. Never list your Social Security Number. Most companies ask if you would like to receive any additional information, offers, and advertisements, so be sure to decline if you aren't interested.
These Web sites provide links to hundreds of assistance programs, including co-pay cards, drug discount cards, and coupons. Through these links to other Web sites, you can access co-pay and discount cards directly. Pharmaceutical companies also have sites for cost-saving programs or cards for their specific medicines. For many of these programs, there are no fees or registration costs for using the cards, but check carefully before you sign up.
Offers links to co-pay cards, coupons, and other financial assistance for brand name prescriptions. Search the alphabetized database for your brand name medication and click to take you to the drug manufacturer’s Web site to sign up for the assistance. These discounts are not available to those whose prescriptions are paid for by any state or federal program, including Medicare and Medicaid, and there are some state specific limitations.
Co-pay Cards from Pharmaceutical Manufacturers
Drug manufacturers offer specific co-pay assistance for a variety of medications, here are a few examples:
- Lipitor $4 co-pay/prescription
- Crestor- $18 co-pay/prescription
- Nexium- $18 co-pay/prescription for up to 12 fills
The site offers a free, downloadable prescription discount card to print and use at participating pharmacies as well as links to other discount programs and co-pay cards for both brand and generic medications. Search the alphabetized database for prescription assistance programs, links to co-pay cards, and disease specific assistance programs. Needymeds includes other services, such as locating free/low cost clinics, MRI/CAT scan discounts, scholarships, and links to Medicaid sites.
Patients can access a discount card that can be used in over 60,000 pharmacies to lower the cost of prescription drugs. This card is free of charge and can be downloaded and printed. The card is also available electronically on a mobile phone. This site offers a user-friendly drug lookup table so you can begin to estimate your drug costs using the card.
Discount cards are available as mobile apps downloadable to your phone. The electronic discount card is then presented to the pharmacist when you fill your prescription. Check out your app store for more details.
Other prescription assistance programs
Here are more resources to assist with the cost of prescription drugs. Many pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs for those who cannot afford their medications and have no health insurance. Information is available at their websites by putting “patient assistance programs” or “patient support” into the search field at the site.
Programs around the country that help patients, caregivers, and prescribers access free or low-cost prescription drugs. This site links to a variety of services to help lower your co-payment for both prescriptions and other medical services.
Helps underinsured patients with co-payments for cancer or chronic disease medications.
National Council of Aging Web site that helps seniors with limited income and resources make the best decisions about the public and private programs that are available to help them save money on prescription drugs and other healthcare costs.
Consumers Union, the group that publishes Consumer Reports, evaluates the best drugs to treat certain conditions based on how well the drugs work, their safety, their side effects, and their cost. This information is also available in Spanish.
Some people with limited resources and income also are eligible for Extra Help to pay for the costs related to a Medicare prescription drug plan - - monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and prescription co-payments.
Provides pharmacy discounts based on negotiated prices at participating pharmacies. HelpRx.info is partnered with a pharmacy benefit provider to help make the information accessible by simply picking a pharmacy or searching for a drug. The search results will come up with the nearest pharmacies or the pharmacies with the best discounts. Patients may claim the discounts by either printing the coupon or sending it electronically to a mobile phone.