Saturday, December 4, 2021

Legitimacy of Drug-Discount Card Questioned

By on July 22, 2017

SAN JUAN — Community Pharmacies Association (AFC by its Spanish initials) President Idalia Bonillo said she is not quite convinced about the effectiveness of the drug-discount card that the Municipal Legislators Association (ALM by its Spanish initials) began to distribute last week among its constituents.

According to Bonillo, she is concerned the discount card is being distributed among patients—which claims to offer discounts that are “unrealistic”—within the pharmacy industry in Puerto Rico.

“As a pharmacy owner, I worry about how this has proliferated, and we believe an investigation must take place to find out from where they intend to provide an 85% discount because I think these could be misleading ads creating unreal expectations,” said Bonillo, who is also a pharmacist with 30 years of experience.

(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Last week, the ALM, in coordination with America’s Drug Card (ADC), announced the distribution of the first 500,000 cards that offer discounts applicable throughout Puerto Rico. The card is free and does not require confidential information.

However, Bonilla believes the benefits offered by the card are a far cry from reality.

“It’s like having a card with your name on it. [The card] is distributed to the population and it tells you to go to that pharmacy and you’re going to save 85% on drugs—and that is a far cry from reality. Sincerely, the population must know there are no agreements, no contracts and no benefits whatsoever for pharmacies,” she said.

Christopher Ojeda, information services vice president at National Benefit Builders—the company promoting the discount card—had previously said that for pharmacies, this represents a discount card that benefits them by offering patients the opportunity to buy other products while waiting for their medications. However, he offered no specifics about how pharmacies could recover the monetary loss associated with the discount.

Bonilla categorically assured that after researching and conducting several tests on the card’s true effectiveness, she found that in most cases the discounts offered directly by community pharmacies are much more beneficial for patients than those offered by the card.

“When we tested with commonly used drugs, such as those for diabetes and hypertension, we went to see how the card behaved. We saw some tables with medications [and] we saw that the savings—when translated to the net [cost]—was more expensive than our prices,” Bonilla explained.

“So, community pharmacies can provide patients better prices because I personally tested it out. That has happened to us with other cards seen [heavily advertised] on TV networks, and we have done our tests, and patients come in with the expectation that if their [health insurance] plan doesn’t cover a medication, they will get a savings of 85%. In the pharmacy [industry], due to the business model in place, it is not real; we could never offer an 85% discount,” she said.

Likewise, faced with the ADC’s claims that using the card does not represent an additional expense for pharmacies, Bonilla indicated that this is completely wrong.

“Pharmacies have expenses because they must pay for the electronic transmissions [required] to process the card and, in some cases, pharmacies even have to pay to become [card network] members. But they continue distributing cards at the expense of, once more, making cuts to pharmacies, because patients come to us envisioning discounts that are unrealistic,” she said.

Bonilla also said that neither the ALM nor National Benefit Builders has approached her as a pharmacy owner to provide details on the discount card that the island’s 78 municipalities are distributing free of charge.

“We have to sit down and talk about how they are going to include me in a model I have no knowledge of and for which I have not been contracted. As the owner of an allied pharmacy, we have not been counseled,” she said.

“What we are doing is analyzing the issue because, in anything benefiting our communities, community pharmacies always say yes. What is not fair is that they talk about high discounts without knowing the reality of the pharmacies’ market in Puerto Rico,” Bonilla said.

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