Discount Cards and Free Drug Programs

by Christina Medvescek on September 1, 2003 - 3:45pm

General information

Discount cards, with names like Together Rx, Pfizer for Living Share Card or GE Wellness Plan, are proliferating like rabbits. The cards help the average uninsured drug buyer get small-to-moderate discounts at local drugstores or via mail order.

There are a large number of programs — more than we can compare here — offering different deals on different drugs. Some charge fees, some are free. Some have eligibility requirements, some don't. There's a range of covered drugs, member pharmacies and mail order options. Some programs also offer discounts on services such as vision and dental care.

Discount cards are sponsored by a variety of organizations, including senior associations, drug companies and other private companies. Some pharmacies have their own cards, and 25 states now offer discount programs to seniors and low-income residents. Some drug manufacturers' discount cards offer low-income individuals making up to $18,000 a year and couples making up to $24,000 a $12 to $15 flat-rate price on certain drugs.

Card programs often trumpet savings "up to 50 percent" but that doesn't mean they'll save you a ton of money. The deeper discounts tend to be on lower-priced generics; 50 percent off $10 is only a $5 saving.

Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) are pharmaceutical manufacturers' programs that provide free drugs to patients who meet stringent low-income guidelines. Each program has different requirements and application procedures. See "Discount Resources" below for more information.

Warnings and guidelines

  • Use discount cards mail order option for slightly more savings.
  • Make sure a card program covers your specific drugs at available pharmacies before paying any fees.
  • Maximize savings by using several cards at different pharmacies.
  • Some companies charge a fee to help you find and get approved for PAPs. Although this makes it quicker and easier, it's possible to do your own research and apply directly for free.

Discount resources

  • Volunteers in Health Care has a packet of consumer information called "Are You Looking for Affordable Medications?" that gives a basic description and contact info for a variety of discount card and PAP programs. Go to and click on "patients," or call (401) 729-3284. Click on "drug discount cards" under "providers" to see the "Comparative Chart of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Drug Discount Cards," or phone for a copy.

  • RxHope helps you find out if you qualify for a PAP or other federal, state and charitable prescription drug program and offers free application help. Go to, or call (877) 267-0517.

  • Prescription Benefits — A Consumer's Guide to Free and Discount Prescription Drugs, by Harry P. Thal (Benefits Publications, August 2002, 184 pages), costs about $25 for information on a wide variety of discounts. (Your local library, health department or agency on aging might have a copy.)
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