Commishes Called Out On Discount Drug Card

Ada Commishes have endorsed a “discount drug card” scheme put forth by pharmacy giant CVS which can cost residents nearly twice what they would pay for the same medicine at COSTCO. The GUARDIAN did “apples for apples” test shopping on three of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

Here is what we found:

  • LIPITOR (cholesterol) 40mg 30 day supply       at Rite Aid $128.03…COSTCO 118.00
  • LEVOTHYROXINE (thyroid) 100mg 30 days    at Rite Aid  $12.35….COSTCO 4.99
  • NORCO (vicadin painkiller) 10mg 60 pills         at Rite Aid 22.22…….COSTCO 22.54

Ada Commishes and the National Association of Counties have agreed to do do promotion and marketing for CVS, a national pharmacy chain, by distributing free “discount cards” at county offices. Ada County even got the local hospitals to join in the effort to distribute the cards.

If the true purpose of the CVS endorsement is to get pharmaceuticals to those who need them at an affordable price, Ada Commishes should pass out cards on behalf of COSTCO and ask the hospitals to do the same as they advocated for the more expensive Rite Aid/CVS discount card plan.

The Commishes  held a media event and hinted that taxpayer money would be saved if indigent people were able to take prescribed medicine and not force the county to pay for medical care because drugs were too expensive. COSTCO offers a free card at its pharmacy with no “membership” requirement–same thing Ada County offers on behalf of CVS. We compared “discount card prices at both COSTCO and Rite Aid.  These plans are for uninsured or underinsured customers and are not part of any insurance plans.  There are no parameters for age, income, residency, etc. on either plan.

NOTE: The GUARDIAN has no stake in COSTCO in any manner whatsoever. We simply think the Commishes got “hoodwinked” by CVS and need to admit it. There are plenty of reasons to shop one retailer over another (location, service, parking, convenience), but when elected public officials advocate one chain over another, we think it is inappropriate.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Dear Boise Guardian ~ You’re absolutely right. And so are we.

    People need to shop around and compare prices, so they get the best deal they can, on prescription medicine as well as on everything else. If Costco or WalMart or any other pharmacy has better prescription drug prices then, by all means, I encourage Ada County residents to go there rather than to one of the pharmacies that takes the free prescription drug card.

    Is it likely that this is a brilliant marketing program thought up by the corporate powers that be at CVS? Yep. On the other hand, from the perspective of the counties, the point of the pharmacy program is to attempt to help people obtain prescription drugs more cost effectively. If someone who is uninsured or underinsured would go to RiteAid to get their medications, or they don’t have the ability to get to Costco, they will still be able to save an average of 22 percent over that pharmacy’s regular prices on their prescriptions by buying them with the drug card than they would receive without it.

    I viewed this drug card program as similar to having a list of “preferred providers” through a health insurance company. You don’t have to go to the providers on the list, but you will get a discount off regular prices if you do. Is it possible to find someone outside the “network” who is cheaper, like Costco is on some prescription medications? Absolutely. It’s always a possibility.

    I also looked at the fact that Ada County pays millions of taxpayer dollars a year (over $2.6 million for medical bills and another $1.3 million for mental health issues in 2008) to hospitals and doctors on behalf of people who are deemed to be medically indigent – unable to pay their own medical bills. If even a small percentage of the people who fall into this category are encouraged by the drug card program (or by knowing that Costco has cheaper drug prices) to take their prescribed medications when otherwise they would deem them too costly, and avoid costly Emergency Room visits, then taxpayers win.

    People in the political arena talk a lot about “quality of life.” To me, one of the most significant contributors to a person’s quality of life is their physical and mental well-being. Perhaps we did act in haste in promoting the prescription drug card program. Unfortunately for us, the Boise Guardian does not attend our meetings and did not bring his perspective on this issue to our attention until we had already acted.

    Our intention was to help Ada County residents enjoy a better quality of life. If the worst thing you can find to say about us is that we tried to help people, then so be it.

  2. Sharon, you are the most open and accessible county official in years. I am usually in your corner, but I have to differ here. I find it hard to comprehend that NO ONE in county government, either elected or bureaucratic, would not have thought to call 6-8 local pharmacies to compare costs and potential savings. If, in fact no one thought of this, then WHY didn’t someone think of it? This lack of logic and common sense is why the county isn’t trusted by many of the residents.

  3. People have to be smart about asking their doctor about generic drugs. Case in point Zocor (Simvastatin) for colesterol costs $288.23 as Zocor but Simvastatin as a generic costs $13.86 for 100 tablets at the Costco online pharmacy. I am sure Walmart, Walgreens and others are competetive in pricing.

    Another thing people are not aware of…you do not need to be a Costco member to use their pharmacy. You may pay a bit more as non-member but you can still use their services and save some money.

    Name brand stuff you get to pay for all the advertising and spiffs the drug reps hand out. Generics are tried and true and all the side effects are known. The new stuff may not have gone thru the rinse cycle enough. Case in point is Celebrex and the heart problems it causes in some people.

  4. One of Sharon’s points was missed. Not everybody has the capabilities to make the drive to Costco and we know a bus would be near impossible. Many people are confined to where they may be able to walk or where they are able to catch a ride.

  5. Paul: If you are going to take Simvastatin you might want to invest in a cane as well while you are in Costco. I took simvastatin manufactured at Dr. Reddy’s of India in 2008 and became a cripple. Can’t even walk to my mailbox. No matter what it cost you it isn’t worth it, no matter where you buy it.

    Best of luck.

  6. Where is the fun in griping about government if they actually take the time to respond? 😉

  7. Bunny Roberts
    May 30, 2009, 6:47 am

    I find it odd to hear one may use the Costco pharmacy w/o being a member, given that one of the most offensive aspects of Costco are the “guardians” at the front door checking to see you have a membership card before they’ll even let you in the flippin’ store! So if you can get past those folks, and if you’re willing to pay a bit more than the members for your drugs, you can use the pharmacy? Doesn’t sound like all that great a deal to me.

    EDITOR NOTE–As COSTCO explained it, there is NO membership requirement and no extra cost to use the pharmacy. They offer the same type of free card as the county. Our point was the county is promoting a card that actually costs MORE than using the same type of free card at COSTCO. We can’t see the county promoting one retailer over another period. We agree with Bunny the SYSTEM needs a fix and suckering the counties into marketing for CVS is hardly the answer.

  8. Bunny Roberts
    May 30, 2009, 6:56 am

    And I might add that if the county prescription card (which was promoted and sponsored by National Association of Counties and CVS, not by Ada County… Ada is just one of many counties who signed on to help distribute the cards) helps even a few poor or elderly folks get a prescription a bit cheaper, then it is a good thing. For heaven’s sake, every prescription is helping some multibillion dollar drug company somewhere. I don’t care if you’re shopping at Walmart, Costco, Riteaid or on the moon. The drug industry is a for-profit industry. And that is situation is not going to be rectified without a major overhaul of the health care system. While we live with the system we have, realize some people cannot buy their prescriptions. And maybe saving 22% will help them do it. No one said they had to shop at Rite Aid. 90% of pharmacies will accept the cards. And counties all across the nations signed on to this program. Maybe it’s a brilliant marketing ploy. So what. Fact is a few folks will save a few bucks. And I do not see the harm.

  9. Keeping My Head Down
    May 30, 2009, 11:54 am


    I too am usually on your side. However, your comment that, “Unfortunately for us, the Boise Guardian does not attend our meetings and did not bring his perspective on this issue to our attention until we had already acted.”

    There is a reason so few people show up to testify on issues such as this. You may be a breath of fresh air on the commission, but two-thirds of the air smells just as bad as it ever did.

    I have been to too many commission meetings where the real decision had clearly already been made before the meeting had started. And given that your two coworkers are guilty of violating the open meeting law, we can only guess what information they base their decisions on.

    I have seen the public abused and ridiculed by your coworkers for having the audacity to exercise their rights by testifying in opposition to a variety of preordained county positions.

    Sorry, but until the some things change on your bench, doing it this way is not only more comfortable, but more effective.

    See in the papers, so to speak.

  10. Note to TJH:

    I have been taking Simvastatin for almost a year and no problems. I would have to believe you are one of the rare individuals who reacted adversely to the drug or something else caused your problem. I insist on generics as cheaper alternatives to Branded drugs whenever possible.

    Certainly drug companies are entitled to make a profit. However, 20 times the cost of a generic equivalent may be economically possible for some people, it is not possible for me. I also rejoice in the notion I am not supporting those annoying “latest and greatest” drug advertisments on TV.
    I’ll keep taking the Simvastatin.

  11. Best wishes to you, Paul. I don’t care about drug company profits if they deliver the goods. After a year and a half of studying the so called “rare side effects” of statins, brand name or otherwise, I have found that thay are not so rare. Do not let your physician make you into another guinea pig for the Big Pharma. Just keep taking the drug and when your memory starts to fade and you have trouble walking to the mailbox at 65, even if your family has generally lived to 90 without these problems just chalk it up to an “oh well” moment.

    I just would like to suggest that you take charge of your own health and not believe what the Big Pharma has been brain washing our doctors with. The basic premises of the drug companies are seriously flawed from what I have found over the last year and a half. But, you may be one of the lucky ones.

  12. Poor people without insurance (who these cards are for), do not go to Costco because they can’t afford Costco memberships or the high prices we pay in order to get a low unit cost on bulk items there. It doesn’t matter that you don’t need a Costco membership to visit the pharmacy, the people we’re talking about will never visit Costco just to save $5 on that one item, it makes zero sense for poor people who don’t have cars and/or a lot of time to run errands. For more on this, read

  13. I have to agree with Brian on the poor people going to Costco. They don’t go there. I see more poor people at convenience stores or Albertsons (a type of convenient store)and at Winco. What I am amazed at is the predominance of excessively overweight people shopping at Costco. Anyone else notice this?

    To be fair, I have never seen the Guardian at Costco.

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