If your insurance has ever stopped covering a prescription drug or you don’t have coverage at all, you know how quickly costs can mount. Americans spent, on average, $758 out of pocket for medication in 2012, according to a recent Consumer Reports national telephone poll. And in its survey of 1,130 people who regularly took prescription drugs — the insured and uninsured — 12 percent spent more than $1,200 last year.
Consumer Reports’ advice if you’re looking to reduce out-of-pocket drug costs: Shop around.
Its secret shoppers recently called more than 200 pharmacies throughout the U.S. to get prices on a month’s supply of five blockbuster drugs that recently have become available as generics: Actos (pioglitazone), for diabetes; Lexapro (escitalopram), an anti- depressant; Lipitor (atorvastatin), for high cholesterol; Plavix (clopidogrel), a blood thinner; and Singulair (montelukast), for asthma. The result? A whopping difference of $749, or 447 percent, between the highest- and lowest-priced stores.
Costco was the least expensive overall, and you don’t need to be a member to use its pharmacy. A few independent pharmacies came in cheaper, though their prices varied widely, as did grocery-store pharmacies. The online retailers Healthwarehouse.com and FamilyMeds.com also had very low prices. On the other end of the spectrum, CVS, Rite Aid and Target had the highest retail prices.
A representative of CVS told Consumer Reports that its retail drug prices reflect other services offered by the chain, including drive-through windows, automated prescription-refill systems, free outreach programs to help make sure patients are taking their prescriptions correctly and 24-hour pharmacies. Costco pharmacies, the cheapest overall, are open only from 10 a.m. to 7 or 8:30 p.m., and are typically closed on Sundays.
How to save
Whichever drugstore or pharmacy you use, choosing generics over brand-name drugs will save you money. Talk to your doctor, who may be able to prescribe cheaper alternatives in the same class of drug. In addition, follow these tips:
Request the lowest price. Consumer Reports’ analysis showed that shoppers didn’t always receive the lowest available price when they called the pharmacy. Sometimes they were given a discounted price, and other times they were quoted the list price. Be sure to explain — whether you have insurance or not — that you want the lowest possible price. The shoppers found that student and senior discounts also may apply, but again, you have to ask.
Leave the city. Grocery-store pharmacies and independent drugstores sometimes charge higher prices in urban areas than in rural areas. For example, Consumer Reports’ shoppers found that for a 30-day supply of generic Actos, an independent pharmacy in Raleigh, N.C., charged $203. A store in a rural area of the state sold it for $37.
Get a refill for 90 days, not 30 days. Most pharmacies offer discounts on a three-month supply.
Consider paying retail. At Costco, the drugstore websites and a few independents, the retail prices were lower for certain drugs than many insurance copays.
Look for additional discounts. All chain and big-box drugstores offer discount generic-drug programs, with some selling hundreds of generic drugs for $4 a month or $10 for a three-month supply. Other programs require you to join to get the discount. (Restrictions apply, and certain programs charge annual fees.)
Although the low costs found at a few stores could entice you to get your prescriptions filled at multiple pharmacies based only on price, Consumer Reports’ medical consultants say it’s best to use a single pharmacy.
That keeps all of the drugs you take in one system, which can help you avoid dangerous drug interactions.
2013, Consumers Union Inc.