We asked a secret shopper to call a dozen pharmacies nationwide to get regular retail prices (the price you pay if, like about 30 percent of people in the U.S., your employer doesn’t offer prescription-drug insurance) and discount-card prices on four common drugs. They included the antidepressant Cymbalta, generic Lipitor to lower cholesterol, Nexium for heartburn, and generic Plavix to protect against strokes and heart attacks. We asked for prices using five discount cards: AAA, AARP, Medco, NeedyMeds, and RxAssist.
Pharmacies gave us retail prices, but none was able to quote card prices over the phone. They all said that we’d need to come into the store with the card and sometimes a prescription.
Next we called the cards’ customer-service numbers and looked at their websites. We were able to get price info for four of the cards (all but NeedyMeds, which gave us prices only when we identified ourselves as a ShopSmart reporter; no prices were available on its website). But those prices were estimates and could change once we got to the pharmacy.
After that, we sent secret shoppers out to check some drugstores around our offices in Yonkers, N.Y. One of the five pharmacies said they would have to actually fill the script in order to quote us prices. Three pharmacies gave us prices but only for the NeedyMeds card. And our shopper wasn’t able to use Medco’s card because we had not yet received it in the mail. The others were simple to download and print at home. So that could be a drawback of Medco, as is its annual fee of $25 or $40 for a family. The others are free, although you do have to pay to be a member of AAA and AARP.