By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – A website and companion smartphone app that purports to save consumers big money on their drug prescriptions does work, and even offers lower prices on some prescription medications than insurance plans, according to a CBS4 investigation.
The site — LowestMed.com — and its smartphone app suggest they can save consumers money on both name brand and generic drugs.
“They don’t need to go in and unknowingly pay whatever they are told,” said Brad Bangerter, CEO of LowestMed. “Most consumers don’t realize prices vary. They don’t always have to use their insurance. Sometimes discount cards and discount coupons can get them better prices.”
CBS4 put those assertions to the test earlier this month with an undercover CBS4 producer traveling to three metro area pharmacies. At a Walmart our producer asked about prices on Simvastatin, a popular cholesterol medication. For a 30-day prescription the cash price was just under $20. But showing a LowestMed app discount card — which is free — the prescription was just over $6, two-thirds less than the cash price. The CBS4 producer’s insurance plan came in even lower at $4.06.
At a Kmart pharmacy in Denver, LowestMed ended up with even bigger savings. Our producer used it for an expensive specialty medication. The pharmacist said the 30-day supply would be $47.44, compared to the $100 per month the producer currently pays through insurance. That means the app will save the producer about $600 annually on the medication.
The app works by simply entering the name of the medication, dosage and a zip code. Then the app produces a list of lowest prices for the medication at dozens of nearby retailers. The discounts are generated from seven different sources and automatically applied to an individualized discount card.
LowestMed charges a small administration fee for providing the referrals to pharmacies.
“The consumer can benefit, the pharmacy can still make a profit, and we have enough money to run our business and still help consumers,” said Bangerter.
At a final pharmacy, a King Soopers in Denver, our producer tried the LowestMed discount card on another expensive specialty medication. This time the pharmacist said a 30-day supply with the LowestMed app discount would be $73, or $27 less than the fixed insurance co-pay. For this drug, the LowestMed price was $3,395 per year less than the cash price.
Totaling up our shopping trip by using the LowestMed price for all three prescriptions and bypassing his insurance, the CBS4 producer would save $926.16 per year.
CBS4 reached out to the pharmaceutical industry trade group PhRMA to ask why drug prices vary so much between retailers. The group doesn’t price drugs, but says drug prices can be determined by a range of issues including different suppliers, changes in contracts between pharmacies and distributors, and price adjustments.
A spokesperson for PhRMA said there are a number of different discount plans that help people who are having problems affording medicine. It recommends the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) which leverages discounts from hundreds of public and private programs and pharmaceutical companies.