8 ways to save big on your medication

8 ways to save big on your medication

Costco, Target, and Walmart offer discount drug programs that can be cheaper than using your insurance

Published: October 2014

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Chances are you’re paying more than you need to for prescription drugs. But thanks to discounts offered at Costco, CVS, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and others, hundreds of common generic drugs can be purchased for pennies per pill.

Retailers offer the discounts to draw in customers. The lower-priced pills aren’t part of any health insurance, and using them won’t count toward your deductible. But they can be a huge help, especially if you don’t have insurance or good drug coverage. And sometimes prices could even be cheaper than if you used insurance. Here’s how to get the most from the programs.

1. Ask for a 90-day Rx

To offer such low prices, retailers often buy the medications in bulk. You should, too. A three-month supply could cost just $10, compared with $4 for a one month’s supply.

2. Factor in membership fees

Though CostcoTarget, and Walmart offer savings without enrollment or fees, others don’t: CVS charges $15 per person; Walgreens, $20 for individuals or $35 for a family.

3. Consider your privacy

You may be required to sign a form or check a box giving the pharmacy or third parties such as drug manufacturers or insurance companies permission to contact you with other offers and promotions. Ask whether you can join the program or get the discounted price if you don’t check that box, says ­Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, Ph.D., a pharmaceutical economics professor at the University of Minnesota.

What else you need to know about prescription privacy, and how to find the best pharmacy for you.

4. Ask for the lowest price

That’s what helped our secret shoppers get the best deals when they called more than 200 pharmacies across the U.S. “Also, ask your pharmacist, ‘What would this cost if I didn’t use my insurance?’” Schondelmeyer says. For an independent pharmacy, see whether it will match or beat competitor prices. You might be surprised.

5. Check back often

Which drugs are discounted, as well as the doses and prices, are subject to change.

6. Look for other extras

CVSKmart, and Walgreens offer discounts of between 5 percent and 20 percent on flu shots and similar services. At Target, membership in the Pharmacy Rewards program gets you a 5 percent discount on a day of shopping after the first prescription fill. Every five fills after that earns you an additional 5 percent discount on store purchases. Walmart offers free shipping on many $10, 90-day prescriptions.

Get free information on the effectiveness, safety, and cost of hundreds of medications from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

7. Know the restrictions

Program discounts usually cannot be combined with other promotions or even insurance. For example, people who use Medicaid and Medicare aren’t eligible for discounts at Costco. Certain discounts are offered only to those who don’t have drug insurance or are for drugs not covered by insurance.

8. Practice Rx safety

Getting a good deal is important, but be sure to have all of your prescriptions filled at a single pharmacy. Your pharmacist can flag any potentially dangerous drug interactions or allergies.

Same drug, different store, lower price

It pays to shop around—you could save hundreds of dollars a year.

 

Generic drug name
(brand name)

Citalopram (Celexa)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats depression

Fluoxetine (Prozac)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats depression

Lovastatin (Mevacor)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats high cholesterol

Metformin (Glucophage)

500 mg, 1 pill twice daily, treats type 2 diabetes

Paroxetine (Paxil)

20 mg, 1 pill daily, treats depression and anxiety

 

Retail price
30 days

$29 

 

$32

$19 

 

$17

$25

CVS
90 days

$11.99

$11.99

$11.99

$11.99

$11.99

Costco
30/90 days

$4.99/$6.39

$5.69/$5.69

$4.99/$6.39

$4.99/$6.39

$5.99/$6.99

Rite Aid
30/90 days

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

$9.99/$15.99

Target
30/90 days

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

Walgreens
30/90 days

$10/$20

$5/$10

$5/$10

$5/$10

$10/$20

Walmart
30/90 days

$4/$10

N/A

$4/$10

$4/$10

$4/$10

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).


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