Shopping Around for Medications

Did you know that prices vary for medications, and that you can find lower prices by shopping around? I didn't know this until I lost my insurance years ago when I left my traditional job with healthcare.

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My first experience was with Flonase, a medication that thankfully is now available over the counter. But in 2010, I was shocked to find that the generic of this medication (fluticasone), for which I had been paying $10 a month (copay), was now $79.99 with no insurance at Walgreens. That made it unaffordable to me. So I decided to shop around, and I was in for a big surprise.

Here in Texas, we have H-E-B as our largest grocery store, and it has a pharmacy. But what I didn't realize is that their prices are lower than chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. When I first checked the price of fluticasone, I was surprised to find that the price—$28—was significantly less than what I'd been paying. I was satisfied with the price, so I never bothered to look further.

H-E-B also offered a discount card, which I think was free. I also learned that other pharmacies linked to retail stores, like Target, did the same.

A year later, H-E-B raised the price $10, to $38, and I decided to shop around again. To my surprise, Sam's Club (like Costco, warehouse-style retail store) came in at $15 for the same generic. But wait...it gets better. I was on the way to my parents' house about an hour away, and I forgot my fluticasone. So I stopped at another Sam's Club in a smaller town, and the price was about $9.50! Same chain, lower price. I was blown away.

So if I ever got a prescription, I got in the habit of shopping around. Sure, generics are cheaper, but there are even variations in price between generics, so it can be worth making a few calls. We do it with everything else, why not?

GoodRX

Enter smartphones and helpful apps! A few years ago, an app called GoodRX appeared and showed these variations in price between different outlets.

There is no cost to download the app, and you can search by location. The app shows you a "coupon" price, which may be low, but in some cases it's not. See the images to the right...the Tylenol 3 is pretty cheap, but Breo Ellipta, a prescription I got last year, is NOT. At $346, this is kind of outrageous. I was really sick, so what's a girl to do?

Well, what do you do when shopping online? GOOGLE "ELLIPTA COUPON!"

I had an upper respiratory issue with a serious, exhausting cough, and as if I didn't feel bad enough, that $346 price made me feel worse! But I had a prescription in hand, I just needed to get my hands on some Ellipta.

With a single Google search, I found that the Breo folks had some savings offers on their site. So let's take a look.

The first is an example of a prescription pricing scam that I wish the government would shut down. "Pay no more than $10 a month on your prescription for Breo for 12 months." I simply don't understand these stupid discount cards. Sure, you're only going to pay $10 a month if you have commercial insurance, but if you don't, you'll get $100 off a month's supply, leaving you to pay $246...still, not the bargain I'm looking for. For someone with an ongoing condition like asthma, if you have insurance, this could be big savings.

(Something to note, though...if you're on Medicare, it's a whole 'nother ball o' wax. Check GoodRX's tools to see how being "eligible for Medicare" affects your ability to obtain the medication.)

But where does the rest of that cost go if the customer is only paying $10 a month? Is it a writeoff for the drug company? On some of the coupons, they will actually write "$336 value." I believe that these costs are passed on as higher premiums to insurance customers. (If anyone understands this, please comment below.)

More importantly, over on the right was another coupon for a FREE TRIAL OFFER! This coupon literally saved my life. I was able to print it out and take it to Walgreens to get a free one-month's supply, and I was better within a few days.

Moral of the story? SHOP AROUND!