Monday, March 2, 2020

So the Truth FINALLY Emerges about GoodRx

Consumer Reports recently published an article about GoodRx. Their research indicates that people do save money. That was never in question with me. I've seen people save a whole $1.80 all the time. Woo hoo!

My issue has always been that this company, the GoodRx company, has never been honest with people about what they do with the private and personal medical information they capture and store EVERY TIME someone uses the GoodRx billing information for a prescription.

As Consumer Reports found out, they've been quietly selling that information to various companies, including Google and Facebook. Oh, excuse me... that they've been SHARING. You know, just like when you go see a movie at the movie theater... you share a $20 bill with them and then they share the movie with you by showing it to you... that kind of "sharing."
And if you'll look at the GoodRx company website, they also updated their privacy policy... yet again. They updated it a couple of years ago after I pointed out that they consider your data their asset, and now they've decided to update the policy again after the Consumer Reports article.

Oh, they also fired their Vice President of Data Privacy. He and his cardboard box with a picture of the wife and kids and his potted plant were escorted out of the building immediately... taking the fall, of course, for not doing a better job of hiding what they do over there at the data collection center.

Hopefully this article will make some people finally wake up about their data privacy. We can hope, anyway. I get asked all the time why I have such a beef with GoodRx and other pharmacy "coupons" offered by various companies. The entire idea of a pharmacy coupon bothers me for a number of reasons:

Pharmacists provide a professional service. Lawyers don't offer coupons. Doctors don't offer coupons. The whole idea reduces us to nothing more than carnival barkers fighting for customers over price. We're not really just taking tablets out of a bigger bottle and putting them into a smaller bottle. We check for interactions with the patient's other meds, make sure it is safe, correct, the right dosage, etc. People typically pay their attorney $5 a minute... yes, that's $300 an hour, to represent them in court... because there is an expectation there that the lawyer will check everything out and make sure every angle is covered. Yet asking $300 for a LIFE SAVING medication that has been correctly researched and made sure it's safe for the patient is somehow unreasonable?

It's unfortunate that medications are expensive. I don't like it any more than anyone else. Yet when you back up and look at the whole picture; medications cost money because it's hugely expensive to create them and test them and make sure they're safe for the patient. It takes 12 years from when a medication is identified before it makes it to market. That's 12 years of research and development and all the costs associated with testing it BEFORE the company makes a single dime on any of it. AND when you consider that the patent is going to run out fairly quickly AFTER those 12 years, the company that did all the R&D and testing is not going to have very long to make any money off the drug before other companies enter the market. The high price is simply the return on a huge investment. I can understand the high cost of brand medication from a business standpoint.

"But other countries sell the same medication for less," people retort. Yes, they do. But that's because the country itself controls the market. The prices are set before the medication enters the country. In effect, we in the United States end up subsidizing medication outside the country by paying more so they can pay less. That's not fair either, but just the way it is. You're certainly free to move to another country where the price is less.

I get comments on my blog posts all the time... such as "I saved $700 on my medication using GoodRx." No, you really didn't, but they made you think you did. I'm sure there's some outliers that save much more than the LISTED cash price. But every pharmacy I've ever been to has an in-house discount. No one needs to pay the LISTED cash price. The "80% savings" is a lie. Making it look like the pharmacist just types it into the cash register is a lie. Making it look like it just takes seconds to get a better price is a lie. It's all a lie, brought to you by a company that's been called out for telling you that they don't share your private medication information.

That's the biggest problem I have with discount cards, and GoodRx specifically, is that that outright lie to people about data collection. People are so impressed to save a few bucks that they gladly hand over their private, personal, ain't-nobody's-business medical information each and every time they use GoodRx. People simply don't understand what they're giving up because all they see is the out of pocket cost at the moment. I just don't understand why people would think that a coupon is going to save them 80% on a medication without there being some sort of payback somewhere. They think it's a magic button. Press it and the price drops by 80%. Really? How stupid are you?

Some day, some day soon, people will start getting insurance denials of service or future coverage... because of "inferred" disease states or conditions they listed in their fine print... which was based on data collected by GoodRx. Other people will see their credit scores go down because the creditors will know what medications they take, some of which will be considered "high risk" medications. Employers will weed out applications for employment when they can easily buy a database from GoodRx and look up the medical history of a patient and see that if they hired the applicant it would cost them more to insure them. Oh wait, excuse me.... when GoodRx shares that information with them.

It isn't like that now... but it will be. Wait and see. It will happen. Wait and see. I've interviewed former employees of GoodRx. I'm fully aware of how valuable they know their data collection is to them. They have a team of data-mining engineers massaging the data as I'm typing this. I've exchanged barbs with the CEO of GoodRx on Twitter. After our public tweets were exchanged, they changed the wording on their website... days after I called them out on storing data. The CEO blocked me and freely tweets that I physically threatened him and his family. That never happened. Another lie. A creepy lie.

If you're not aware of how Facebook works, let me fill you in. You're the product. Every time you hit LIKE on anything, or even click on anything, that information is captured, stored, and used in algorithms to feed you future information based on that click. You will see ads targeted to sell you things based on a "profile" they create about you. That data is also sold to various companies. Oh wait, no, they share it. It's SHARED with other companies.

What you may not know is that Doug Hirsch, the CEO I just mentioned and one of the founders of GoodRx, STARTED at Facebook where he learned these data collection skills and copied it into the GoodRx platform -- data collection for profit. Put it all together and it's so very clear what's going on, yet people are just stuck on saving a few bucks today and giving up their privacy forever.

If a company wants to offer discounts for medications for patients, go for it. Just leave the retail pharmacy out of it. Work it out with the patient BEFORE they get to the pharmacy like Blink does, or AFTER they've left the pharmacy in terms of a reimbursement or refund. Make it different enough NOT to affect pharmacy operations at all and I can guarantee you that pharmacists and techs will dispense your discount plans for you everywhere. If you make it so we have to put in a BIN, PCN, Group, and ID number, you've pissed us off. We don't have time for that. 

I simply can't tell you the time and effort I've personally wasted messing with discount cards IN the pharmacy... TIME we need to fill prescriptions and make sure they're safe and correct for the patient. We fill the medications. The price of the medication is something we shouldn't have to deal with at all. The doctor doesn't handle billing for his or her services. We shouldn't either. You pay, either by insurance or cash. Let us be pharmacists, not carnival barkers.


Anonymous said...

Great to see you're back, Crazy!

Anonymous said...

I miss you Crazy.

Good to see that Good RX is getting called out on their policies. People who think they are getting something for nothing will still believe Good RX has their best interest in mind.

Anonymous said...

Why not hire someone to deal with the payment if you don't want to deal with it yourself? That's what a drs office does.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I share all your posts about Good Rx. I enjoy reading your posts-they're funny, sad, scary, and informational, and things people need to hear

Travis said...

Honestly, for the amount I save on my 4 prescriptions (roughly $100/month), I'm glad to have them sell some of my non-identifiable information. It's a far better payoff than I get from the web companies that sell similar information with little-to-no benefit on my behalf. Obviously, as a non-public company, we cannot see their financial records, but it's safe to assume their business model primarily uses income not from selling data, but from the significant (sort-of) clawback they get from pharmacies for each prescription.

That said, I do appreciate you bringing it to the public's attention. It is important for people to know what they are giving up when using these discount programs.

As far as your oft-repeated claims about decreased patient safety...that's a pretty tough sell. It really sounds like you aren't cut out for a big retail pharmacy. You are clearly unhappy there. Rather than just complain about it, move to a small independent pharmacy, or even open up your own! I can only assume the pay is vastly superior at your chosen employer; otherwise it's a no-brainer. Obviously, there's no requirement for an independent pharmacy to use GoodRX, and most of them in my area in fact don't. My very favorite independent pharmacy doesn't (and is still cheaper on one of my meds than the large chain pharmacies with GoodRX.

Please do keep bringing legitimate arguments about GoodRX to the table, but this repeated "overworked" argument isn't remotely convincing (as you can plainly see from the overwhelming consensus in the comments of your first GoodRX-related article, which focused exclusively on this argument.)

Anonymous said...

Minor correction. Lawyers do take coupons! Many employer assistance programs have referral programs. To get on the list to get those referrals, you agree to give the client/employee 25% off your services. They get a "coupon" from their EAP to prove they are eligible for the discount.