Here's How to Compare Prescription Drug Prices Online
Did you know...? Retail prices for the same prescription can vary significantly from one pharmacy to another; there may even be big differences between stores of the same brand. It can pay big dividends to shop around, but shopping prescription prices is pretty difficult. Unless you know a few secrets... Read on!
Finding the Best Prescription Prices
Americans spend over $300 billion on prescription drugs annually. That’s over $3,000 per household. Even with health insurance, prescriptions can take a big bite out of a tight budget. Traditional co-payments usually max out between $50 and $100 per prescription. Co-insurance is worse, replacing flat co-payments with percentages; effectively, there is no cap on the amount that the patient must pay. And if you have no prescription drug coverage, you’re going to feel the full pain of retail prices.
“Can you hold, please?” are the first words a pharmacy tech learns. Once they find out you’re shopping price, the hold time can get even longer. Some stores won’t even provide prices over the phone; they know that once you’re in the store, you’re likely to take whatever price they name. But drug prices can vary as much as 80 percent from pharmacy to pharmacy.
So it does pay to shop around. The price difference for a prescription can be as much as $100 between two pharmacies in the same town. Often, there are coupons, discounts offered by the pharmacy or manufacturer, or cheaper alternative drugs available. And sometimes, your co-pay isn't the cheapest option. But it can take hours and hours of calling and/or online research to find the best price.
Enter the crowd-sourced online prescription price comparison tools! If we patients just pool our knowledge of local retail drug prices, each of us can find the cheapest neighborhood source of drugs. We might even shame some stores into lowering their out-of-line prices. There are a bunch of apps for this purpose, but they’re not all equal.
Tools for Online Drug Price Comparison
GoodRx is a free web-based tool, also available for iPhone/iPad and Android devices. It's rated highly at finding the lowest prices in stores and online. You can search by medical condition, drug name, or pharmacy location (using Zip code or your GPS coordinates). It provides lots of savings tips as well as price comparisons. GoodRx is a free service and you don't have to cough up any personal information to search for discounts on your medications. Their website says that they promise not to not sell your personal health information to anyone. In addition to the price search option, GoodRx has a Pill Identifier, tips for Medicare patients, and even tips on finding the best price for your pet's medications.
As a test, I searched for Tramadol, a pain medication with GoodRx. The price at Price Chopper, Stop & Shop, and ShopRite (local grocery stores) was $7.55. Chain pharmacies in my area charged a lot more: CVS $19.81; Rite Aid $20.95; Walgreens $22.40.
A Consumer Reports test showed that WeRX found slightly higher prices than GoodRx did. (To be fair, Consumer Reports searched for only four drugs.) But WeRX found prices at a lot more local “mom-n-pop” stores than GoodRx did. The app also provides one-click reporting of a new location and price that you have found.
I searched again for Tramadol, this time with WeRX, and found listings for several local independent pharmacies, but they were about $2-3 higher than the prices GoodRX reported at the grocery stores.
GoodRX and WeRX are crowd-sourced databases. You may come across apps or websites offering prescription discount “memberships,” a marketing gimmick that many feel is a scam. Their promoters claim that they entitle the “member” to discounts of 10% to 80% on prescription drugs. The Better Business Bureau has found that most discount cards deliver much less than they promise.
Here's an example: WebMDRx says they partner with major pharmacy chains to help find you the best prices. You can use their website or mobile app to search for a drug and compare prices to find the best deal. After selecting a pharmacy to fill your prescription, you can print, text or email yourself a coupon. Bring the printed coupon (or show it on your phone) when visiting the pharmacy. WebMDRx says their coupons are accepted at over 35,000 pharmacies nationwide, including CVS, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid, Walmart, and Target.
I used WebMDRx to check for local prices on Tramadol, and found the following: Walmart Pharmacy $11.15; CVS Pharmacy $21.96; Walgreens $16.75. That's a difference of about 50% from the lowest to the highest price. But still, those "negotiated prices" at the major pharmacy chains are significantly higher than the prices I found at local and independent pharmacies. Of course, these numbers will vary depending on the drug, and your location. But clearly, it pays to shop around.
Remember: if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Free discount cards are financed by pharmacies that pay for referrals, and for data about your prescription buying habits. Crowd-sourced apps like GoodRx or WebRX may not be perfect, but they’re probably more trustworthy.
Doctors are typically not aware of how much medications cost, or whether they will be covered by your health insurance. Always ask your doctor if there is a generic alternative for any drug that he or she prescribes, especially if you're paying out of pocket. That alone can cut the cost by hundreds of dollars. Don't hesitate to ask for samples or coupons, and by all means, use these online tools to compare prices at your local drugstores.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 8 Aug 2019
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