Texas Rx Card Media Center

Discount cards aren't always what they seem

With this card, I thee save. Or do you?

Various associations, companies and organizations advertise drug-discount cards that are supposed to save big bucks on common prescriptions. Although some of these cards can indeed save you money, consumers should be aware that some cards are scams, and others might not save as much as you think.

"Certainly there are some legitimate discount programs ... consumers just need to make sure the plan they sign up for is offering discounts and benefits that are relevant to their situation," said Guy Ward, staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission. "Be aware of who you're talking to and what they're selling."

First of all, be aware that drug-discount cards aren't the same thing as health insurance, experts warn. Just because a card company offers discounts on prescriptions doesn't mean you'll get a discount on doctor's visits or other health-care services, Ward said.

Ask questions about what the drug-discount card covers and what the benefits are, suggested Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office.

"Investigate plans very carefully. Call and ask for a list of providers, and call pharmacies to ask if they will honor these (cards)," Kelley said.

Be wary of drug-discount cards or plans that charge fees, experts said. And watch out for hidden costs. Some scammers have made money by "helping" people sign up for discount programs that are actually available for free, the attorney general's office reports. In 2005, the attorney general sued Senior Rx Support of Dallas, a mail-order prescription service, for offering to help with discount forms for a fee, and then asked participants to lie about their income.

Stay away from companies that charge a fee for information on free or low-cost drug programs - that information is free from your doctor, pharmacist or an organization called the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, the FTC says.

The Texas attorney general and FTC also have taken action against companies who have claimed their plans constitute health insurance, or companies that sell plans via telemarketing.

If you receive calls selling a drug-discount card, even though you're on the do-not-call list, that's a sign of fraud, warned Ward. Also, these companies shouldn't ask for your bank-account number or credit-card number over the phone, he said.

As for legitimate discount cards, many types are out there. Some drug-discount cards are available to anyone, while others have income or age restrictions. Discount cards offered through the Medicare Part D program, for example, can only be used by people eligible for Medicare. Several drug companies have programs offering low-cost prescriptions, but to qualify you must fall below certain income limits.

Recently, United Networks of America, a company that assembles managed-care networks, launched the Texas Rx Card program, which offers discounts on several common prescriptions. The card is free and any Texas resident can use it, with no restrictions, said Ben Porritt, a spokesman for the program.

Pharmacies and drug companies are funding the card in an effort to increase "foot traffic" in pharmacies, Porritt said.

Walgreens and Kmart accept the card, and officials said it should be accepted at several other pharmacies in the Rio Grande Valley. Some local pharmacists said, however, that they hadn't heard of the program.

Be sure and ask at your pharmacy to see if it's participating in a discount program, said Kelley of the attorney general's office. The program could be legitimate, but the pharmacy might not be participating, he said.

However, a free card, like the Texas Rx Card, is less likely to be a scam, Ward said.

"If it's really free, it might be worth looking at," he said.