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Some Drug Discount Cards Offer Same Service, Different Packaging and Price

Kate Traynor

Prescription-drug discount card programs that charge substantial enrollment fees often provide cardholders access to the same discounts offered by a no-fee service.

Consider the MatureRx card from FFI Health Services, a subsidiary of pharmacy benefits manager AdvancePCS. FFI offers the MatureRx card for free through the company's Web site, which claims that cardholders can receive discounts of up to 65 percent off the price of "preferred brand name prescription drugs."

FFI also allows other organizations to market the MatureRx card to consumers—and to charge them a fee for access to the same pharmacy system and discounts available through the no-fee program.

An FFI spokesperson deferred questions about MatureRx to AdvancePCS.

"I think it's totally appropriate if our clients want to charge for the program," said Kirby Bessant, vice president of consumer programs at AdvancePCS. "Many of our clients add additional value-added services [to their card programs]." Those services, such as discounts on nonpharmacy items, may cost the marketers, he said, and they in turn charge their customers.

Doug Moesta, vice president of VIP Marketing of Pensacola, Fla., sells two versions of the MatureRx card: Christian Partners MatureRx and VIP MatureRx. He confirmed that his cards, available for a one-time fee of $29.95, provide the same pharmacy benefits as the free MatureRx card from FFI but do not offer extra services.

When asked what the $29.95 charge covers, Moesta replied, "It's a marketing fee."

Moesta said he promotes his cards in late-night television advertisements. His customers, he said, probably do not know that they can get the same card for free from FFI.

Four drug manufacturers recently established discount card programs that offer prescription drug products at reduced prices to qualified seniors. Cardholders must be Medicare eligible, have no insurance coverage for prescription drugs, and meet strict income requirements. Seniors do not pay a fee to obtain these cards, which offer discounts only on products made by the manufacturer that offers the card.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) recently announced a plan to consolidate manufacturers' discount and subsidy programs into a single no-cost card. The NACDS-backed discount card, which has been dubbed the PharmacyCareOneCard, will be administered by Argus Health Systems of Kansas City, Mo. According to an NACDS press release, several unnamed "major" drug manufacturers are interested in the card program. Three major community pharmacy chains—CVS Corp., Rite-Aid Corp., and Eckerd Corp.—have announced that they will accept the PharmacyCareOneCard.

NACDS has not provided details on how PharmacyCareOneCard applicants will be screened for eligibility. At least two of the recently established manufacturer-sponsored discount card programs require applicants to submit a copy of their federal income tax return to demonstrate eligibility.



GlaxoSmithKline Orange Card

Annual income must not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Discount of 25 percent off the wholesale acquisition cost applies to all GSK outpatient drug products.

LillyAnswers Program

Annual income must not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level (applicant must submit page 1 of his or her federal income tax return). Cardholder pays $12 for a 30-day supply of most Lilly outpatient drug products.

Novartis Care Card

Annual income must not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Discount of 25 percent off the wholesale acquisition cost applies to selected Novartis drug products.

Pfizer Share Card Program

Annual income must not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level (applicant must submit page 1 of his or her federal income tax return). Cardholder pays $15 for a 30-day supply of any Pfizer outpatient drug product except Celebrex.

A MatureRx card is also marketed by Sieba Ltd. of Endicott, N.Y.

Barbara Cobb, director of enrollment administration at Sieba, said her company charges customers $12.95 per year for the card, which she described as "an FFI program that we distribute locally."

The fee Sieba charges for its MatureRx program covers "strictly the prescription card" and no other services, Cobb said. She estimated about 5,000 people, including enrollees and their family members, use her company's MatureRx card. Family members do not pay an extra fee to use the enrollee's card, Cobb said.

Yet another MatureRx card can be purchased from Charter Oak Benefits LLC of West Hartford, Conn., for a one-time fee of $9.95. The card is promoted by the company's Web site as a way for people without drug coverage to save money on prescription drug products.

The most expensive MatureRx card may be that marketed by Fairfield, N.J.-based Pinnacle Choice, which charges $50 per year for the card.

AdvancePCS's Bessant confirmed that all versions of the MatureRx card provide customers with access to the same pharmacy network and drug formulary. Holders of the various cards also receive the same discounts, which were negotiated between FFI and various drug manufacturers and pharmacies before AdvancePCS merged with FFI in 2000.

Bessant said AdvancePCS investigates its clients before allowing them to market one of the company's card programs. "We want to make sure they're legitimate business operations," he said. "As long as they can meet the requirements of our contracting, then we would agree to allow them to market the MatureRx card." But organizations that market MatureRx or other prescription drug cards from AdvancePCS do not have to consult the company when setting fees for the programs, he said.

The MatureRx program is not the only vehicle through which AdvancePCS clients can set up a discount card program for prescription drug products.

AdvancePCS is also the pharmacy benefits manager for a $48-per-year discount card offered by Prescription Benefits Inc. of Birmingham, Ala. Another program, the Peoples Prescription Plan—owned by Peoples Benefit Services Inc. of Valley Forge, Penn.—uses AdvancePCS as the benefits manager and charges $90.40 per year for the card.

At least two major pharmacy benefits managers other than AdvancePCS also market or manage discount card programs.

Merck-Medco LLC joined with Readers Digest Association Inc. in 2000 to promote the YOURxPLAN prescription drug discount card. Enrollment in YOURxPLAN costs $25 per year. The year before, Merck-Medco and Medical Mutual of Ohio introduced the SaveWell program, which now charges its members $84 per year for a prescription drug discount card.

AARP offers a prescription-drug discount card program to members who pay an additional $15 per year.

Late last year, United Healthcare Insurance Co. took over operation of AARP's program, which had previously been contracted to AdvancePCS. Meanwhile, AdvancePCS had launched a free discount card program, the AdvancePCS Rx Savings Plan, in fall 2001.

AARP and United Healthcare subsequently filed a lawsuit against AdvancePCS to stop its Rx Savings Plan. The lawsuit alleges that AARP customers who failed to give their pharmacy their new account number, issued after United Healthcare took over the program, were unknowingly switched to the free AdvancePCS program, which had retained the members' old account numbers.

Earlier this week, AdvancePCS announced that a Minnesota district court judge has granted a preliminary injunction against the company's Rx Savings Plan. The company said it will appeal the judge's decision.

Bessant, who was interviewed before the judge issued the ruling and was not asked to discuss the lawsuit, said the AdvancePCS Rx Savings Plan is distinct from the MatureRx program.

"Some of the drugs are the same, but they're not all the same," he said. "They have different pharmacies in the pharmacy network, although there is a dramatic overlap."

Bessant added that FFI's MatureRx plan and the AdvancePCS Rx Savings Plan were created at different times, operate under "different contracting relationships" with pharmacies and drug manufacturers, and thus offer different discounts.

Prescription-Drug Discount Card Programs


Enrollment Cost

AARP Member Choice

$15 per year (open only to AARP members; membership costs $12.50 per year)

FFI MatureRx

Charter Oak Benefits MatureRx

VIP MatureRx

Christian Partners MatureRx

SIEBA MatureRx

Pinnacle Choice MatureRx


$9.95 one-time fee

$29.95 one-time fee

$29.95 one-time fee

$12.95 per year

$50 per year

Prescription Benefits Inc.

$48 per year

Peoples Prescription Plan

$95.40 per year


$84 per year


$25 per year