At Blink Health, Online: (Low) Drug Prices off the Charts

As drug costs skyrocket and Obamacare seems on shaky ground following Donald Trump’s election as president, thousands of people are sometimes frantically seeking lower-priced medications as they figure out their healthcare needs.

I mean, in the blink-of-the-eye!

Enter  Blink Health.

Blink Health, based in New York City, is an on-line based drug and prescription service that is attracting thousands of new customers, who are buying medications about 50 percent lower than they usually spend, for drugs $10 or less. That’s happening while drug costs overall have roiled consumers, even sparking congressional probes.

Blink Health’s customers are realizing the cheaper prices as they purchase their medications through Blink’s website or app, both free, and then take their prescriptions to almost any pharmacy in the country to be filled. At the pharmacies, customers then show their “Blink Card,” which is a proof of purchase, and receive their medicine. No payment is made to the pharmacy.

“At Blink Health we have seen a huge uptick in consumer calls, thousands of calls since the election. Consumers are feeling the jitters about potentially losing their healthcare, and concerned about affording their medications next year,” said co-founder Matthew Chaiken in an interview with HealthDataBuzz. Chaiken’s brother, Geoffrey, is the other co-founder.

“Patients are wondering what their medications are going to cost next year and the years ahead, given the amount of uncertainty,” Matthew Chaiken added.

Blink Health offers savings for prices some 15,000 medications. Recently, Blink Health announced a deal with Eli Lilly to save people 40% on insulin, such as Humalog. It will be honored at 67,000 local pharmacies nationwide, the company said.

Of course, there are many variables in prices of drugs, which are set by pharmacy benefits managers, who work with drug makers and insurers. But the mere fact that Blink and some other enterprises are able to sell drugs much lower prices reflects the great variation of the business model. For now, Blink Health focuses on generic drugs, which represents about 80 percent of the prescriptions out there. Blink Health advises its customers to check the Blink Price for their medications and see if they can save money. By slashing the prices, they show how millions of people are grossly overpaying for these medications.

geoff-matt-2-1Geoff and Matt Chaiken

Not only are too many people spending too much money for their needed medications, others are simply avoiding the drugs altogether because of high costs, with potentially tragic consequences.

“I have patients tell me that they use (the prescriptions) beyond the expiration date to save money,” Dr. Jen Wolfe, PharmD, BCGP, a senior care pharmacist in Clarksburg, MD.

For instance, diabetic patients who need insulin have said they aren’t always taking the medicine they should. “I have seen people or have them tell me they skip doses or don’t take it all to save money,” Wolfe says. “This can result in dire health consequences, including hospitalizations, organ failure and even death.”

As far as Blink Health execs see it, the prospects are just about limitless, which says something about the nature of healthcare and pricing today. At least 70 million people are “either under-insured or not insured, and that includes about 30 million people who can’t pay insurance” and the 40 million “with very high co-pays or high deductibles,” Matthew Chaiken says. “These people are sometimes waking up every day, anxious about their prescription medications,” he adds.

Indeed, the numbers show the need for less expensive medications – and Blink Health says it is trying to fill the void. Blink Health is relying on volume and is getting plenty of business. Although it started with generics, it expects to get into the brand name market as well.

On its website, Blink Health notes: “No matter if you are insured, uninsured or something in between, we offer some of the lowest prices on over 15,000 medications. Think of it as the cure for high drug prices.”

Blink Health is getting lots of publicity and deservedly so. As the New York Times said in a profile of drug pricing, “The spotlight on drug prices could not come at a better time….” The Times reported that “ten of the country’s 15 most commonly prescribed drugs cost less than $10 on Blink Health, including generics of Lipitor, the cholesterol drug, and metformin, the diabetes drug.”

While there are others moving into the medication selling space online, Blink Health has a niche market:

““We don’t have direct competitors in the market today,” Matthew Chaiken emphasizes. “We are the only company that offers one price for each medicine. Most patients take multiple medications and the ability to offer one price is viable for everyone. That enables the patient to go to the most convenient place where they trust the pharmacist.”

Prior to Blink Health, there was “no single web site a patient could go to and look up the price of medication and know they can obtain that price at any pharmacy they went to,” Matthew Chaiken says. “We recognize the huge opportunity to bring transparency to the prescription drug marketplace which historically has been incredibly opaque.”

Matthew Chaiken says one of the problems is a “huge misconception in this country” among the public about drug pricing.

“Patients assume when they pay several hundred dollars per month for health insurance, or go to the pharmacy, they are getting the lowest possible price for their medications. And that’s not the case,” he says.

Wolfe, the Maryland pharmacist, agrees that the lack of knowledge about drug pricing is a tremendous pitfall of the system.

“I would have to say educating the consumer is the biggest obstacle,” she says of all who try to sell pharmaceuticals to patients. She puts Blink Health into that category. “The smartest people I know don’t understand or have any idea what their insurance plan sells,” Wolfe says. “They’ve got to really educate people to get them to sit down and really go over the nitty-gritty of what their benefits are, and exactly what they’re currently paying. Then the customer needs to see what they can save by getting the Blink price from their website or app.”

An educated consumer herself, of course, Wolfe has tapped into Blink for her own personal medications and saw 50 percent savings.

“I think Blink is a terrific company that genuinely wants to help people save money on their medications,” Wolfe says. “Blink knows who their customer is and understands them. They have great leadership and are able to make important cost savings deals with drug companies to save patients substantial money.”

Matthew Chaiken says he’s gratified by the reaction from some customers. He and his brother come from a long line of relatives who have an understanding of the needs of people who may be sick and want to get better. The brothers are the sons and grandsons of physicians.

The two boyish-looking brothers -Matthew and Geoffrey Chaiken – are effectively in medicine, too.

Hearing from people who have purchased prescriptions at a cheaper price “is just incredible,” Matthew Chaiken says.

A couple wrote to Blink Health telling the brothers they saved over $13,000 after enrolling for their medication. “They are foster parents and heart transplant patients,” Matthew Chaiken said, aglow. “It’s wild!”

Joe Cantlupe

 

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