How to avoid paying up to 10x more for prescription drugs

Earlier this year, a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey found that some Americans pay up to ten times more for drugs than necessary. And not even designer drugs either, but prescription drugs that people need to function properly and enjoy a decent level of quality life. What most people fail to realize, though, is that while you may pay more at a given drugstore, you may also pay less at another, and that the latter need not be too far from the latter, geographically speaking – in fact, you may actually pay less at the same pharmacy where you pay more.  If this sounds confusing it’s because it is; drug prices can skyrocket by the hundreds of dollars based on seemingly random reasons such as product shortages, changes in insurance coverage, and lack of competition.

Once again, these are prescription drugs we’re talking about, but most people act like high-class junkies and just pay whatever they’re asked to without discussion – or go cold turkey. But according to Consumer Reports, there are several ways to go about saving on prescription drugs without having to resort to the black market. To wit:

·         Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can stop taking any of the drugs you’ve been prescribed. It may be the case that some of the five medications that Americans take on average are duplicates of another drug or just no longer required.

 

·         Make sure prescription drugs are covered by your insurance; otherwise, ask your doctor if he or she he can prescribe a different medication that is in your formulary.

 

·         Consider switching to a more affordable drug that is in the same class of medications, or another acceptable alternative such as a generic version of a brand name drug. This can be tricky, though; Consumer Reports cites the case who found out that the cost of filling her prescription of duloxetine went from $38 to $100. In light of that, she took a different and cheaper anti-inflammatory. As a result, “I stiffened up and hobbled around a lot,” she is quoted as saying. “But I just couldn’t afford the drug at that price.”

 

·         Use your insurer’s preferred pharmacies.

 

·         Think about using you insurer’s mail order service, if available.

 

·         Conversely, it may pay not to always use your insurance. Many chain and big-box stores offer a myriad of generic drugs at prices as low as $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply for customers who pay out of pocket. Sam’s Club goes as far as to fill some prescriptions free-of-charge for members. However, there may be a small fee to sign up, and not all discount programs are available to people with Medicare, Medicaid, or Tricare insurance. Moreover, bypassing your insurance means money spent on medication won’t count toward deductible or out-of-pocket maximums.

 

·         Speaking of 90-day supplies, this might be the best and most affordable way to pay for drugs you take long-term – starting with the fact that, if you have insurance, you’ll pay one co-pay instead of three.

 

·         If possible, fill your prescription at Costco. Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers “found that Costco usually offers the lowest retail prices on medications. For example, a month’s supply of the generic antidepressant duloxetine (Cymbalta) cost $220 both at a Kmart and at a Walgreens in Raleigh, N.C., but just $55 at a nearby Costco.” You don’t need to be a member to enjoy these prices, but you can save even more if you are. “We just price products as low as we possibly can and still make a modest profit” senior vice president Victor Curtis, R.Ph. told Consumer Reports.

 

Actos

Cymbalta

Lipitor

Plavix

Singulair

( generic versions )

Retailer

Price ($)

Total ($)

HealthWarehouse.com

14

35

11

9

15

83

Costco

18

44

18

16

21

117

Sam’s Club

96

11

30

29

27

193

Target

66

160

30

30

31

317

Walmart

140

118

30

30

35

352

Kmart

180

220

73

30

56

558

Walgreens

167

220

64

65

87

603

Rite Aid

255

170

127

130

144

827

CVS

235

191

146

150

133

855

 

 

·         Favor independents over chain drugstores. Large pharmacy chains consistently charged higher prices for the five drugs listed above. And while some independent stores charged as high as $345 for generic Actos for instance, other charged as low as $11.

 

·         Don’t be afraid to bargain. According to Curtis, pharmacists – like vampires who need to be asked in – are prohibited by Medicare Part D from offering a better cash price to a customer unless the customer asks about it. “It sounds crazy that you would need to approach buying prescription medications like you would a used car—by shopping around and haggling,” pharmacoeconomics professor at the University of Minnesota Stephen Schondelmeyer, Pharm.D. says. “But that’s the reality of today’s pharmaceutical marketplace.” Rule of thumb: always ask “is this your lowest possible price?”

 

·         Search online. Just like Discount Medical Supplies offers the guaranteed lowest prices when buying medical supplies online, you can also save on medications if you fill your prescription with an online drugstore – just make sure you use an online retailer that clearly operates within the United States and displays the ‘VIPPS’ symbol that confirms it as a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site.

Related: Should you prescribe generics instead of brand name drugs?