In-mail drug cards real, but not from feds

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Thousands in the Portland-metropolitan area are getting prescription drug cards in the mail, promising deep discounts on prescription medicine. But is this deal too good to be true, or is it just what it promises?

The official-looking prescription savings cards come free and unsolicited. It’s accompanied by a letter that looks like it could be from the government, promising average discounts of 50% on prescription drugs.

But this card has nothing to do with the government, or the Affordable Care Act. Instead, it’s a marketing tool by a company that gets paid for each transaction by a major prescription drug company.

The cards, from a company called United States Prescription Discounts based in Washington D.C., are legitimate. But pharmacists told KOIN 6 News the discounts are much less than advertised.

“Insurance is a much better discount for the consumer,” said OHSU Pharmacy Manager Dan Kennedy. “This is a discount card. They advertise up to 75% savings, but really more like what we see are 5 to 10% savings on typical prescription drugs.”

A call to United States Prescription Discounts’ customer service center, via the number on the card, turned up some additional details.

“While the consumer does benefit from the discounts we provide, we do get paid a small amount directly from the pharmaceutical companies each time a card is being used,” said a woman who identified herself as Jennifer. “So if we can’t save you money, then we don’t get paid a fee.”

So don’t think of it as an insurance card. It’s not.

Think of it more like a coupon, which gets you a discount on a drug’s retail cash price. That’s a price hardly anyone with insurance pays. However, the discount may be helpful for the uninsured or underinsured.

That being said, some pharmacists are raising concerns about third-party access to the health information gathered every time a card is used. KOIN 6 News asked the company’s customer representative about whether card-use information is sold to a third party.

“No,” Jennifer said, “we’re prohibited by law from selling or soliciting any of your personal information.”

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