Like most of us, my health insurance covers some of the cost of medications. But because I don’t need any diabetes medication and am in good health, I use few prescription drugs and don’t come close to reaching my deductible. So I pay the whole cost out of my pocket for the few medications that I get from time to time.
Consequently, I have had to learn that American pharmacies operate like third-world businesses in one important respect. We have to negotiate with them.
Recently I experienced how flexible their prices can be. I called in the transfer of a prescription from one pharmacy to the local Target pharmacy, since I understood that Target has good prices. When I went to pick up the pills, the price was $46.99. I hadn’t had to refill this prescription for several years, but my memory was that it should have been a lot less. When I told that to the clerk, all she said was that it was the price and did I want it on not.
I took it home. But later I wondered if I had been overcharged.
My first step was to check a useful website that I recently discovered, GoodRx. That site gave me a coupon that would have brought the price of my prescription down all the way to $15.22.
The site also told me that somehow it might have helped if I had given the pharmacy my health insurance information. Then, it led me to an equivalent medication that is less expensive but seems to be as effective, at least according to the limited research I just did. I will discuss this with my doctor when I see her the next time. A third time that can work for some medications is to split a higher dosage pill. Cutting a higher-dosage pill in half can save 50 percent or more. A fourth tip is a link to manufacturers’ drug discount programs.
GoodRx shows all the pharmacies in my area except Costco. The exception is probably because Costco is a membership store. However, I have a membership so I called the local store. The pharmacist told me that the price would have been $7.21. I wasn’t surprised that they beat Target’s price, but I was astounded at the difference. However, the Costco store is twice as far from my apartment as Target is, and I had already picked up the prescription.
The next step was to call the Target pharmacy and tell them that I wanted to return the prescription because Costco had a much better price. I knew full well that in Colorado, where I live, and probably in all states, we can’t return a prescription once we leave the store, but I was negotiating and wanted to get the attention of the young lady who I had reached in the pharmacy. I did.
She said, as I expected, that they could not take the prescription back. “But we price match,” she said.
That got my attention. So I returned to the Target pharmacy with the quote that Costco had given me on the phone for $7.21. The Target lady had meanwhile done some checking on her own and came up with a different price — $4.23. Since this price was less than one-tenth of the original price, I was happy to stop negotiating at this point and accept my refund of $42.76.
This huge price difference was not for a diabetes drug. I don’t take any of them for my diabetes because I am able to manage my diabetes with diet and exercise alone. But I checked the price differentials of several insulins and oral diabetes prescriptions. All of those that I checked had some, albeit not huge, differences.
We aren’t, of course, “diabetics.” We have diabetes as well as some of the other vicissitudes that bodies are subject to. So the price of any medication can be important to us, particularly for those of us who still aren’t able to get good health insurance coverage for the drugs they need.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.
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