June 4, 2013

Same Generic Drug: Many Different Prices

On May 21, I discussed how hospitals – even just miles apart in the same city – charged wildly varying amounts for the same medical procedures.

Today, I want to share a similar story: that pharmacies – even neighboring facilities – charge very different amounts for the same generic drugs.

As reported in the May issue of Consumer Reports (CR), their secret shoppers contacted over 200 pharmacies nationwide to obtain prices for a month’s supply of five “blockbuster” drugs now available as generics:
  • Actos (pioglitazone) for diabetes 
  • Lexapro (escitalopram) for depression 
  • Lipitor (atorvastatin) for high cholesterol 
  • Plavix (clopidogrel), a blood thinner 
  • Singulair (montelukast) for asthma 
The differences were eye-popping: $749 (or 447%) between lowest and highest.
  • Costco ($167) As the CR article points out, you don’t need to be a member to use the pharmacy. 
  • Healthwarehouse.com ($209) 
  • FamilyMeds.com ($226) 
  • Sam’s Club ($376) 
  • Independents ($381) 
  • Kmart ($392) 
  • Walmart ($426) 
  • Walgreens ($433) 
  • Grocery stores ($658) 
  • Target ($796) 
  • Rite Aid ($820) 
  • CVS ($916) 
CVS at the Bottom?
I can’t say I was thrilled to see CVS – my pharmacy – at the bottom of the value list. A CVS rep said “its retail drug prices reflect other services offered by the chain, including drive-through windows, automated prescription refill systems, free outreach programs to help make sure patients are taking their prescriptions correctly, and 24-hour pharmacies.”

Those extras, while nice, don't justify the price differential. But I'll stick with CVS mainly because it's the closest pharmacy to my house. I park in the Safeway lot and stay put while I shop at CVS, my treasured Figs carry-out restaurant, and the Safeway. I want to get all of my meds from the same pharmacy; recent posts described the help I got from the CVS pharmacist who discovered possible adverse drug interactions.

The article included several tips on how to save:

  • Choose generics 
  • Tell your doctor you want the lowest possible price. She might know how to help you save. 
  • Request the lowest price at the pharmacy. 
  • Discounts may apply for student or seniors, but you must ask. 
  • Leave town. Pharmacies in rural areas likely charge less than their urban counterparts. 
  • Most pharmacies discount 3-month supplies, so ask. 
  • Know the retail total. It might be LESS than your copay. 

  • Shopping around makes sense. But we need to keep one thing in mind: adverse drug interactions are dangerous. If you use multiple pharmacies for cost reasons, make sure everyone – and especially your internist – knows what you’re already taking. Jeopardizing your health isn’t worth any discount.

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    I've written about this subject before. A few recent examples:

    1 comment:

    John Martin said...

    Sadly, generics are *not* always equivalent. For one of the more dramatic examples: http://www.voxxi.com/generic-wellbutrin-pulled-off-market/