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Kiowa County Signal - Kiowa County, KS
  • COLUMN: 'The ‘free drug card’, not what it seems'

  • Kiowa County pharmacist owner Merlin McFarlane responds to a request by The Signal to find information on a prescription "discount" card that is called the "Kansas Free Prescription Card."


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  • Kiowa County pharmacist owner Merlin McFarlane responds to a request by The Signal to find information on a prescription "discount" card that is called the "Kansas Free Prescription Card."
    I checked this card out.  I went to their web site and it appears that it is a state sponsored card.  I checked with a friend who is a state legislator and is actively involved with the overhaul of the state Medicaid program.  He visited with Dr Mosier at KDHE.  Neither one ever heard of this program. 
    I went back to the web page and found the name “Adam Swarles” at the bottom of the page he is the owner of the company that owns the “Drug Card” according to his Linkedin page.  The company is called United Networks of America and is a privately held corporation in Louisiana and the CEO/ President is “Ryan J Jumonville”. 
    I found an article explaining how UNA makes its money. 
    UNA makes $1.80 every time a prescription gets filled using one of their cards. They have a card for most states.  I did a little more searching and Mr. Jumonville is on a commercial real estate buying spree in Destin, Fl.  He has spent around 3 million dollars so far.  So he evidently makes a lot of money. 
    He is not the only one providing “free” drug discount cards to the uninsured.  There are at least 10 individuals and companies in this business. 
    Kansas Blue Cross has a Free Card that they get $2.00 a prescription on.  They provide it to their clients if they opt not to buy the drug coverage because of the premium cost. These cards rarely save the patient money and most of the time they will pay 3 to 5 dollars more than the cash price at the pharmacy.  This niche market has developed along side legitimate prescription insurance. They operate in an area that has no laws governing their operation. 
    Here is how it works:  Insurance companies hire Pharmacy Benefit Management companies (PBM's) to manage their prescription drug program.  They process the claims, cut checks to the pharmacies, bill and collect transaction fees from pharmacies. 
    About 5 or 6 years ago drug discount cards started showing up.  Blue Cross and other insurance started putting them out to make money off of their clients with out drug coverage. 
    It is all perfectly legal but I think they should have taken an ethics course, or at least ask their mothers about the ethical considerations of making money off of people who cannot afford their premiums. 
    Let’s say we decide to do our own card.  Let's use RESTAT (a benefits management company) since that's whom UNA uses and they know how to do a drug card. 
    We contract with RESTAT and every pharmacy in their network. This happens automatically and unbeknown to them. They become eligible to process our card. 
    Page 2 of 2 - We tell RESTAT that we want to net $1.80 on every transaction.  RESTAT adds their costs of doing business and profit to the equation and we agree on the up charge that they will add to each prescription. 
    The pharmacy may share in paying the up charge so most of the time both the patient and the pharmacy wind up paying more.
    UNA also claims that only personal information you are giving is your name.  That is true when you sign up for a card, but when you use the card, you are required to give your date of birth and an address.  Pharmacies in most states are required to verify the identity of their patients if they do not know them personally.  So when you use the card all of this information is transmitted to the PBM as well as your doctor’s information.  The PBM's mine this information and sell it to anyone that will pay for it. 
    I have heard of patients getting calls and mail from drug companies with a competing product of a drug that they bought using a discount card. Typically they market these plans by pitching them to people who will likely have contact with and  be empathetic to folks that are under insured.  That would be health care workers in general, clinics and doctors offices, county health departments, home health agencies, and social workers.  99.9% of all of us are in healthcare because we care about and want to help people so it is usually an easy sell if we can get a free something to help someone out.
    Bottom line, if someone brings in one of these cards it will work.  However, all of our stores already have a plan in place to give people with no insurance the most reasonable prices that we can.  Almost always our cash plan is cheaper than the discount card programs and it keeps people employed locally instead of funding Mr. Jumonville's strip mall purchases.
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