Price Checking Prescription Drug Prices At Pharmacies

NBC 7 Responds looks for savings at local popular pharmacies

Americans are paying more than ever for prescription drugs.

According to a new report, in 2017, the average retail cost for a prescription drug in America increased by 8.4 percent that year alone. 

With more than 70 percent of Americans currently taking some form of medication during the course of a year, NBC 7 Responds wanted to look at ways Americans can save money on prescriptions.

To find savings, NBC 7 Responds looked for price differences at local pharmacies.

State and federal laws now allow pharmacists to give the base fees or prices of medications out over the phone, allowing customers to shop around for better savings.

To put that to the test, NBC 7 Responds picked five of the most commonly prescribed drugs nationwide and called five popular pharmacy chains throughout San Diego County to check their prices.

Those medications included: Hydrocodone (pain), Levothyroxine (thyroid), Gabapentin (seizures/pain), Atorvastatin (high cholesterol), and Metformin (diabetes).

The pharmacies called were Rite-Aid, CVS, Walgreens, Costco, and Walmart.

Cash prices differed dramatically.

For example, a 30-day supply of Atorvastatin, a popular High Cholesterol drug, costs $162 without insurance discounts or coupons at Walgreens. At Rite-Aid the same prescription costs $99.

But at Costco a 30-day prescription of Atorvastatin costs $16. At Walmart, that price is only $9.

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Spokespersons for Rite-Aid and Walgreens say the cash price fails to factor in in-store discounts.

“We believe that informal pricing surveys like this one are too small to draw meaningful conclusions about which pharmacies offer the best overall service offerings and value,” said a spokesperson for Rite-Aid. “They often-times also don’t take into account the discount and third-party insurance programs that are available to patients.”

Yet, while no other prescription we called on had the price difference seen with the Atorvastatin prescription, there were price differences in all of the prescriptions we called on, meaning that there are cost savings available.

For example, cash prices for Metformin, a medication used to help treat Diabetes, ranged from as high as $19 at Walgreens to $4 at Walmart.

“The days of going in and paying $10 with your insurance copay is over. Now you have to be a pro-active consumer,” says Thomas Goetz, chief research officer at GoodRx, a website and app that tracks prescription prices.

“The fact is, every pharmacy has slightly different prices.”

Here are some other tips when looking to cut down on the high cost of prescription drugs.:

First, talk to your physician. Make sure the prescription you are on is the correct one and ask if there are any alternatives.

Second, if you have medical insurance, then don’t assume it is cheaper to use insurance. Call the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist for the price with your insurance and the cash price, as well as if there are any discounts.

Third, ask if it is cheaper to get larger doses per pill in order to allow you to split the pills.

Tim Lash is the executive vice president for West Health, a national nonprofit that advocates for lower healthcare costs for seniors.

Lash told NBC 7 Responds a survey conducted by his nonprofit revealed 30 percent of people are cutting back on medications due to the high cost of prescription drugs. 

“The high cost of drugs is literally crippling American families,” said Lash. “Prescription drug prices in the United States are out of control. People shouldn’t be stopping their medication and they certainly shouldn’t reducing doses because of concerns around cost.”

To read the full statements from Rite-Aid, Walgreens, and CVS click here.

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