Empowering Patients to Find Savings on Drug Costs

By: Kim Read

The less control an individual has over a situation, the more intimidating it feels. That lack of control is a key reason why the healthcare system has often overwhelmed the very people it’s designed to help. 

The drumbeat of ever-higher medical spending has necessitated benefit plan designs, programs and comparison tools that help uncouple price and quality, empowering patients to shop for care like they do other important expenses, while exerting some level of control over their medical spending. 

However, the high cost of prescription medications—with or without insurance—remains for most people opaque, frustrating and difficult to manage. Yet innovative resources and new technologies are already giving users more direct control over their prescription drug costs. All that’s keeping patients from taking advantage of them is lack of awareness about their existence and potential for savings. 

It’s more than just the money

RetailMeNot, which has entered the healthcare space with the launch of its Rx Saver™ drug discount savings tool, recently conducted a survey with Kelton Research in which 72% of Americans age 18 and older said filling a prescription stresses them out. Of those, more than half attributed their stress to both the high cost of the prescription (52%) and not knowing the price in advance (53%). 

Worse, survey respondents revealed that the high cost of a medication (61%) or lack of insurance (51%) could cause them to not fill a prescription at all. Unfortunately, the perception remains, “I have no control over the price. I just have to pay it—or go without.” While in reality, the combination of pharmacy pricing flexibility, assistance programs, discounts and coupons often provides a variety of savings opportunities, if patients know where and how to look. 

Technology puts the consumer in control

Virtually all big carriers and Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM) offer look-up tools for finding network pharmacies, some with pricing information. Third-party “health navigation” tools such as Castlight, if offered as an employee benefit, provide network pharmacy and pricing information as part of a larger, more comprehensive provider cost and quality application. These tools are helpful but can be constrained by the provisions of a given health plan’s network or discount source.

Other third-party applications offer more patient-direct control over costs, because they don’t use a specific health plan, network or discount source while searching. For example, users of Rx Saver and similar drug discount programs simply enter the name and dosage of the medication, and the application finds available discount sources, programs and coupons. These tools then use that data to compile and compare the lowest total prices available from the pharmacies closest to the user. Depending on the medication, the savings can be significant. 

In addition, patients can search online for drug manufacturers’ patient assistance programs that can drastically lower the cost of certain medications, and there may be government-sponsored programs available, such as Medicare Extra Help or state-provided prescription discount cards. 

Providers play a key role

Providers can increase patient engagement by educating and offering free tools that put the patient in control of their spending. The RetailMeNot survey found fully two-thirds of Americans have never heard of a tool that helps find the best prices on prescriptions. Considering the potential stress of patients having to weigh the affordability of filling an expensive medication, a quick suggestion during office visits by physicians or staff to check out online pricing apps and assistance programs is a no-brainer. Raising awareness about the variability in prescription pricing and the tools to take advantage of it is a simple, essential step toward allowing patients more control over medication expenses while helping ensure treatment effectiveness.   

As senior vice president and GM of Rx Saver for RetailMeNot, Kim Read leads the team responsible for the RX Saver website and app, with a commitment to making it easy for consumers to find low prices on prescription medication through a mix of transparency and convenience.

Previously, Kim was senior vice president, operations, where she led the company’s North American operations function to support an ever-changing set of business and customer needs. 

Kim graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in advertising and a minor in business. She continued management studies through the University of South Florida and Acton School of Business’s Emergent Execs program.

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