A Consumer Reports study finds Costco offered the lowest retail drug prices and CVS the highest. The study appears in the magazine's May issue and reinforces the oft-repeated advice that shopping around for the best prescription price can mean big savings.
In fact, failing to comparison shop could result in overpaying by as much as $100 a month or even more, depending on the drug, the study -- available at www.ConsumerReports.org. -- found. Consumer Reports compared drug prices for five blockbuster drugs that have recently gone generic, including heart drugs Lipitor and Plavix.
And while Costco is a good bet for low drug prices, consumers may find a good deal too at their local independent pharmacies. “A consumer can’t assume that the price of their prescription medications is set in stone. One of the big takeaways is that you have to ask for the best price and see if your pharmacist will work with you. Especially for the independent pharmacies, if they want to retain your business and loyalty, they will help you get the best price,” says Lisa Gill, editor, prescription drugs, Consumer Reports.
One reason for the wild cost fluctuations may be that different types of stores have different business incentives, says Gill. “It really comes down to a store’s business model. For example, big box stores tend to use their pharmacies as a way to get consumers through the door with the expectation that they’ll buy other things.”
Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers called more than 200 pharmacies throughout the U.S. to get retail prices (what you would pay without insurance) on a month’s supply of five blockbuster drugs that have recently become available as generics: Actos for diabetes; Lexapro, an antidepressant; Lipitor, for high cholesterol; Plavix, a blood thinner; and Singulair (montelukast), for asthma.
The result? A difference of $749, or 447%, between the highest and lowest priced stores.
Some price comparisons:
If you shop around, a month’s supply of generic Lipitor will set you back $17 at Costco, CR’s secret shoppers found. However, if you fail to do your homework and purchase it from CVS, you could pay $150. That’s a difference of $133. Rite Aid and Target were also pricey.
For the antidepressant Lexapro, Consumer Reports found a month’s supply available of the generic version at a cost of $7 at Costco and $126 at CVS. Rite Aid, grocery stores, and Walgreens also charged high prices on average.
Generic Plavix, which is prescribed to people with cardiovascular disease, was also available at widely varying prices. For example, on the low end, a month’s supply was available at $12 through Healthwarehouse.com and $15 at Costco, while CVS quoted $180 when CR’s secret shoppers inquired about prices.
For the market basket of drugs CR checked, independent and grocery store pharmacies’ prices varied widely between stores, sometimes offering the cheapest and the most expensive price for the same drug. So consumers should shop around.
What to do
Request the lowest price. CR’s analysis reveals that shoppers weren’t always given the best, lowest price. Make sure you ask.
Go with generics. Generics are copies of brand-name medications whose patents have expired. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that generics contain the same active ingredients in the same strength as the brands they copy. In addition, a generic must be “bioequivalent” to its corresponding brand, meaning that it delivers the same amount of active ingredients into a person’s bloodstream in the same amount of time as the original brand. Read more about generics at ConsumerReports.org.
Leave the city and shop like a country mouse. CR found that some grocery-store and independent drugstores had higher prices in urban areas than rural areas. For example, CR shoppers priced a 30-day supply of generic Actos at a pharmacy in Raleigh, N.C., for $203, while another pharmacy in a rural area of the state sold it for just $37.
Get a refill for 90 days, not 30 days. Most pharmacies offer discounts on a three-month supply.
Look for additional discounts. All chain and big-box drugstores now offer discount generic-drug programs, with some selling hundreds of generic drugs for $4 a month or $10 for a three-month supply. Just make sure your drug is on the list. Offers vary and check the fine print.