Here's How to Compare Prescription Drug Prices Online

Category: Finance

Did you know...? Retail prices for the same prescription can vary significantly from one drugstore 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 pharm@cy 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 store to store.

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 pharm@cy 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.

How to compare prescription drug prices

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 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 drugstore 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 store 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 drugstore. 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 local drugstore prices on Tramadol, and found the following: Walmart $11.15; CVS $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 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...

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Most recent comments on "Here's How to Compare Prescription Drug Prices Online"

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

The only problem is that GoodRX shows retail prices rather than what your co-pay might be after insurance. Still a very useful tool for comparison.

Also GoodRx will also show you discounts. When it displays the prices, many of them will show "Free Coupon". If you select that it will give you the info the pharmacy needs to get you that price (i.e., Member ID, BIN, GROUP, PCN).

One of my medications had a $30 co-pay when I went to pick it up. Then I used GoodRx and it said $11 at the same pharmacy (CVS). So I had them reprice it with the codes from GoodRX.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

I take 2 medications that insurance does not cover. GoodRX provides a huge discount over the normal retail prices for both drugs.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

How do you know the drugs you purchase are genuine and not illegally imported rubbish that could be dangerous to your health? There have been countless examples of such drugs and the authorities appear to be fighting up uphill battle to catch those responsible.

Posted by:

Gary Hansen
08 Aug 2019

I went to Walgreens to pick up 30 days of a blood pressure medication. Price $199 with insurance. I had to wait an hour before I could actually pick up the medication.

Costco was a 5 minute walk away, so I checked in with the pharmacy there. I didn't need to have a Costco card to shop at the pharmacy. Costco price was $38 for 90 days with no insurance.

Walgreens: $199 for 30 days; 2 hours wait including waiting in line twice

Costco: $38 for 90 days; 14 minutes total, in and out the door

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

I refer patients to GoodRx a lot. As pointed out, though, the prices are for cash purchases, and don't show what it would cost with insurance. Insurers have favored pharmacies, and that's where patients should check first.
In genereal, Walmart and Sam's Club offer very good cash prices on many popular generics, so it's worth checking there.
As for counterfeit drugs, mentioned by Dave- it hasn't been a big problem in the US and Canada. It's more of a problem in third world countries, but if we keep cutting the budgets for our regulatory agencies, we may get to that point some day.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

Thank you, Bob, for this excellent, helpful article!

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

As I have advanced in years, my need for insulin and other medications has grown.

I've done a lot of shopping for meds, and this is an excellent tip sheet.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

GoodRX has saved me a ton over my Part-D coverage with WellCare. I only have to ask the pharmacy to re-price with GoodRX and it's done.
As to "David" comment, you are NOT buying from any of these discounts. You purchase from a reputable pharmacy and just use the discount.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

I have found GoodRx to be a great resource when shopping for medications. I even bought a medication for cash for less then what my insurance co-pay would have been! Awesome!
But even with a GoodRx lowest price quote, ask more questions when you get to the pharmacy. My cat needs a medication and the lowest price I found on GoodRx was $10/30 days. When I talked to the pharmacy tech about it, she did some checking and quoted an even lower price which was $17.88/90 days. Another Awesome!
Always check with the pharmacy tech to see if you are getting the best price possible. They are humans, too, with the same salary and budget concerns we all have.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
08 Aug 2019

Pharmaceuticals bought online and delivered by mail or UPS or Fedex are the main source in the USA for counterfeit drugs. I have never heard of any Prescription Drug provider that is honored by Insurance whether Mail Order Pharmacies or Brick & Mortar ones being found to be fulfilling prescriptions with Counterfeits.

Since Bob is talking about online tools to find the best price to fulfill prescriptions, I do not believe unless on of those services pointed you to a shady on-line pharmacy that there is any significant risk of getting counterfeit drugs. Now if you just are searching the Internet for discount on-line drugs or responding to spam offers that is an entirely different matter. And that I believe is where all or virtually all the news stories regarding counterfeit drugs arise.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

RxSaver is usually than GoodRX.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

The fact that we have to do all this price comparison on prescriptions is just one more example of how totally screwed up the U.S. healthcare industry is. This would never be an issue in a civilized country.

Posted by:

thom r
08 Aug 2019

I want to second the posters suggestion for Costco. A BP generic at CVS was $200 for 90 caps. Costco price was $22.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2019

I use a Medicare Advantage Plan with Part D. My daughter uses GoodRX for all of her husband's meds. He does not have health insurance and isn't eligible for Medicare for about 2 years. GoodRX gets his meds at a much lower price than basic retail.

NOW for all who need regular and long acting Insulin ... I would suggest using Walmart's Relion Insulin products. The cost is only $24.88 per 10ml vial. The insulin is made by Novo Nordisk's Novolin insulin.

I use Relion's Insulin for my hubby's insulin, since our Health Insurance will not pay for Relion Insulin and Humulin Insulin co-pays are $47.00 for ONE - 10ml vial, and he needs FOUR - 10ml vials a month.

Also, for all the Diabetics on Bob's mailing list ... Insulin does NOT need a subscription to be purchased at any Drug Store!!! Yes, that is a fact that many Doctors don't even know. Insulin can NOT be refused to a Diabetic due to the problems that Diabetics have with their Blood Sugars.

So, if you are traveling and need an insulin vial, go to a local Pharmacy and get yourself one. Walmart Pharmacy will be willing to help you out, should you be out of state or not near your own Pharmacy. My Hubby has been using Relion Insulin for years and the insulin works and costs a lot less.

Posted by:

09 Aug 2019

And with all the recent discussion of getting congress to do something substantial about the outrageous rip-off consumers are subjected to by Big Pharma, this brings to mind the fact that ours is the only country in the world in which the government is forbidden by law to negotiate drug prices for those people who are covered by Medicare!! This whole rotten, corrupt, venal system just leaves me speechless! (That is - if I said what I really think, you wouldn't print it)!!

Posted by:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick
09 Aug 2019

The problem with shopping around is that doctors in my area will no longer issue paper prescriptions. They have to be transmitted eletronically to the pharmacy. If I don't like the price at my pharmacy, how do I determine which other pharmacy has the best price? Call around to different pharmacies and hope that the price they quote over the phone is accurate? Transfer the prescription to a different pharmacy and hope for the best?

Posted by:

10 Aug 2019

Thanks for the article on this important topic. I, too, have had good luck with GoodRx and got a brand name drug my doc prescribed to me for several hundred dollars less than the retail price. Regarding generics, I just finished reading a horrifying book, Bottle of Lies, by Katherine Eban. It is an investigation into the generic drug boom and some of the quality control issues therein, including the challenges the FDA faces in regulating drugs manufactured overseas.

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