For almost a decade chain pharmacies nationwide have been selling select generic drugs for as little as $1 per week. And you’ve probably seen ads for similar drug programs at mass retailers and even some supermarkets. Here’s what you need to know to maximize your medication savings.
What’s included: Generic-drug programs cover hundreds of medications to treat many common conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, depression, osteoarthritis, and allergies.
What’s (usually) not included: Newer, brand-name drugs.
How the plans work: Some pharmacies require you to sign up for membership or pay an annual fee. Others require only a doctor’s prescription. Some memberships need to be renewed annually, while others are open-ended. Find out all the details before you need to fill a prescription in case the enrollment process takes longer than you anticipated.
Why pharmacies can sell drugs so cheaply: Some pharmacies say it’s because they buy drugs in bulk. Others say that program membership fees help to offset the costs. Some pharmacies may lose money on these programs, but others, such as the “big box” stores, may make up the loss through impulse sales or sales of other high-ticket items.
What insurance covers: Generic medication included in these programs can be even cheaper than your insurance co-payment. If you have a $10 co-pay but the drug you need is offered by a pharmacy for $4, you should be eligible for the cheaper price. Simply pay for the drug out-of-pocket and the pharmacy won’t submit the claim to your insurance company. Ask the pharmacist about any exclusions (also see the chart) or how the program works with Medicaid, Medicare, or another federal program you use.
Where to get good prices beyond the chains: If your preferred pharmacy is a mom-and-pop shop, it pays to ask if it will match the discount prices of the chain drugstores. In many cases the independents will try, and they may even offer a discount generic drug program of their own.