Like Dorothy and Toto in The Wizard of Oz, last Saturday morning Hubby and I were swept into an adventure that would reinforce what we already knew due to my experience last week when Secure Horizons refused to pay for folic acid that would probably have cost them a couple of dollars at the most. The cost of generic drugs can vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy. Just as we comparison shop for food and clothing or any other product, now we must make a decision, inasmuch as we’re able to–due to the infestation of insurance corporations into our daily lives–where we can afford to purchase our prescription medicines, generic or otherwise.
We took the three prescriptions our family doctor recently wrote for Hubby (Zocor, Synthroid and Glucophage) to assist in controlling type II diabetics. In spite of the encroaching heat, we decided to go sleuthing around the city for the lowest prices available without insurance. His AARP medical plan only allows a discounted price of $10 per prescription so we weren’t sure it would be prudent to use insurance at all. What, we wondered, would it cost us out of pocket with no insurance involved at all?
Our first stop was the Wal-Mart Pharmacy to check out their $4 generic list. All three drugs we needed are available as a generic, and we tend to view generics as a money saving alternative to brand drugs. Only two (synthroid & glucophage) were on the list, however, but we purchased a 90-day supply of both. Price total so far: $24.00 ($4 per 30 pills times 3 on 2 prescriptions). Since the Zocor (simvastatin) wasn’t on the list, we asked what it would cost if we got the generic anyway. It was hot outside, and we’d already waited around for upwards of an hour and a half; why not get everything here and be done! The answer was $136 for 90 pills, and the discounted price through AARP could save $10. Clearly not the way to go. Back to the car and the heat outside.
On our ride to our next stop, Costco, I thought how little I’d thought about where I got my prescriptions filled, as long as it was convenient. Like most people, I’ve assumed that brand drugs cost pretty much the same at any pharmacy I chose. Over the years, since the late 70s when I found it necessary to begin my first regimen of a pill a day to help keep my cholesterol in check, I’ve gotten used to either taking my written prescriptions to a pharmacy–usually one located near my residence–or sent them away to whatever mail-order prescription service my insurance plan approved. There was usually a small co-pay due from my pocket, but otherwise it meant very little to me where I got the medication, in fact whether I got brand name or generic.
We were already somewhat familiar with prices at Costco Pharmacy since we’d checked out their prices for their online prescription service already. Wondering what they would charge us in-pharmacy (rather than on-line ordering) for the zocor, we found a parking place in the crowded lot and put life and limb in jeopardy as we maneuvered the parking lot freeway to get to the store entrance. It turned out to be worthwhile. The cost for 90 pills of the remaining Rx, the generic of Zocor, was $16.09. Added to the $24 we’d spent on the other two, we had now spent a total of 40.09 for Hubby’s three month supply. Quite a difference than the $160 we would have spent for the same three had we filled all three at Wal-Mart in spite of the $4 generic list. And, get this! NO INSURANCE INVOLVED. I don’t have prices to compare, i.e., with/insurance as opposed to without, but I have a sneaky suspicion that we would have spent considerably more had insurance been involved.
In 90 days we’ll have to do the same thing all over again, but this time we’ll be more knowledgeable. We’ll ask for 100 day supply prescriptions from our doctor, since Costco sells in 30, 60, and 100 day supplies, and the more you buy at one time the less the cost per dose. Also, something many people may not realize, you DO NOT have to be a member of Costco in order to buy from their pharmacy.
This posting is not meant to be an endorsement for Costco Drugs. It is meant simply to urge everyone reading this to spend a little time checking out drug prices. For a list of websites that offer price comparison charts that will give you an idea of what to expect, you can click here, anywhere on the colored underlines. Then look at the left side for Store Directory, then click on the Drug Comparison Prices directly beneath the Pharmacy heading. Also, please note that other pharmacies are following Wal-Mart’s example of reasonably priced generic drugs, including K-mart and Target.
Even though we found there is no Wizard to help us understand whys and wherefores of drug pricing, other than pure profit, remember what that electricity wizard, Benjamin Franklin, said so many years ago: “The best helping hand is at the end of your own arm.” Use that hand and the attached arm to research online, in the library, whatever way you’re comfortable with. Keep those pharmacy hands out of your pockets.
This is great information. I hope many patients take your advice and check their prices before getting their prescriptions filled.
One thing I would suggest for next time is to call around to all the pharmacies in your area. Pharmacists will answer your question on price over the phone. This will save you lots of time driving to each location.
When calling around, I would encourage you to check all the local independent pharmacies too. Depending on the drug and the pharmacy, you can often get better pricing from your local community pharmacy. Don’t assume independents are the most expensive because they are not.
In addition to the potential cost savings, there are a few other benefits to using a local community pharmacy. 1) By supporting your local pharmacy, you will be keeping the money in your local community. 2) your local community pharmacy will provide better customer service. In other words, you won’t have to wait 90 minutes to get 3 prescriptions filled. They will get to know you by name and go out of their way to take care of you (including delivering your prescriptions).
Once again, I enjoyed reading your article. You make some excellent points and I do hope many follow your advice.
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