Pharmacy Discount Cards

Nearly everyone who takes prescription medication on a regular basis wonders how to save money on this monthly expense.

This is particularly true for those who have little or no health insurance, and for people age 55 or older. The costs of healthcare—including medicine—is rising faster than inflation, and many people turn to pharmacy discount cards for savings.

Although a pharmacy discount card sounds like it will guarantee low prices, having one is not an automatic assurance of receiving the best price in your area. With or without a card, you may be able to find better prices on your own. Keep reading to learn how pharmacy discount cards work—and how to make them work for you.

How do pharmacy discount cards work?

Companies that offer pharmacy discount cards have negotiated discounts with drug manufacturers. One way they do this is with prescription volume, as high demand results in lower prices at retail stores. When you order a prescription, showing your card gives you access to these volume-based discounts. However, drug prices may change daily even with a pharmacy discount card. You will still need to comparison shop to find the best deals.

Why do drug prices fluctuate so wildly? The prescription drug industry is a complicated one that includes tens of thousands of drugs and many variables. Different manufacturers make the same drug and sell it under generic and name-brand labels. These identical medications can be packaged differently, and the packaging costs influence the final price you pay. Different drug wholesalers offer medications at varying prices. This means that your favorite pharmacy may sell your medication for $15 one day and $40 the next, depending on the wholesale cost. These price fluctuations happen all over the country, every hour of the day.

Popular Pharmacy Discount Cards

An online search for pharmacy discount cards will reveal many options. Although most cards offer the same basic discounts, some may have benefits that you prefer over others. Here are five of the more well-known pharmacy discount card companies. Note that many cards are coupled with an app to use on your Android or iPhone.

  1. AARP (OptumRx) offers free discounts to AARP members, their spouses and their dependents. Discounts are valid only for FDA-approved prescriptions not covered by the patient’s health insurance policy.
  2. Blink Health offers a price match guarantee on all generic prescription medications, including those covered by health insurance. Ask your pharmacist if the Blink price is cheaper than your co-payment.
  3. Drugs.com offers a discount card that is not valid for patients with Medicare, Medicaid or any other state or federal prescription drug coverage. However, individuals with private insurance may use the Drugs.com discount card.
  4. GoodRx offers a pharmacy discount card that is good for every member of the family—even pets. Pair your GoodRx card with the company’s app to easily find the deepest savings in your area.
  5. ScriptSave WellRx is also good for spouses, children and pets. Members also have access to an “Ask the Pharmacist” service.

Pros and Cons of Using a Pharmacy Discount Card

If you do not have prescription drug coverage, a pharmacy discount card may be your only opportunity to receive consistent savings on your medication costs. Some commonly cited pros and cons of using a pharmacy discount card include:

Pros:

  • They can save you real money on your monthly drug costs. Some cards promise savings up to 80 percent. While that level of savings is rare, it does happen.
  • Many cards can be used even if you have prescription drug coverage.
  • There are no membership fees, but some may require you to have a paid membership in an organization, such as AARP.
  • Many offer online ordering and payment options.
  • Some cards cover pet medications, which can provide significant savings in households with senior pets or multiple animals. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if your pet can take a human equivalent of the prescribed drugs.
  • Most pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies accept discount cards. If your pharmacy does not accept the card, the card company will often help you transfer your prescription to one that does.

Cons:

  • Having a card is no guarantee of getting a significant discount. Your savings could be anywhere from two percent to 80 percent off retail—and you may not know how much until you are at the register.
  • An additional card transaction fee is added at the register. While this fee is relatively small, it can add up if you’re purchasing several medications at once.
  • Because of the frequent changes in drug prices, you can still overpay for your medicine while using a pharmacy discount card.
  • You must still shop around to receive the best drug prices. Sometimes, you will arrive at the pharmacy and find that the price changed again. You may find that you get deeper discounts through store savings programs.

Examples of Drug Pricing

The same medication can cost extremely different amounts depending on where you shop. The following prices for common medications were collected from three different pharmacies in the same town, on the same day. They clearly reflect the wide variation of drug prices you will find on any given day:

  • Lipitor, 10 mg dose, 30 pills: $8.95/$22.49/$10.80
  • Crestor, 10 mg dose, 30 pills: $16.95/$74.34/$238.14
  • Generic Flonase, 50 mcg/16 g, 1 bottle: $11.01/$30.13/$13.26
  • Lunesta, 2 mg, 30 pills: $25.95/$173.62/$100.59
  • Celebrex, 200 mg, 30 pills: $106.91/$22.95/$66.70

How to Make Your Pharmacy Discount Card Work for You

The best way to make your pharmacy discount card work for you is to stay on top of your local drug prices. Since it is not practical to call every local pharmacy when your refills are due, consider downloading your pharmacy discount card company’s app if they have one. Discount card apps can show you the most current prices at your local pharmacies and how much you stand to save by using your card. Apps also offer other features, such as pill identification tools and reminders to take your medicine.

You can use a pharmacy discount card on any prescription medication that is listed on the pharmacy discount card’s website, app or user guide. If you have a question about whether your medications are included, call the card company’s customer service number.

Sometimes, you can also save money indirectly when you have a pharmacy discount card. When your pharmacist notices that your only discount is through the card, he or she may offer you a better store discount instead. Pharmacists may also suggest an older, cheaper medication that works just as well. Often, they will also offer to contact your doctor on your behalf and request this type of medication substitution.

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