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Prescriptions May Cost More at Certain Pharmacies, So Shop Around

Nov 30, 2016
By Malcolm Thaler

If you’re like the millions of Americans who filled a prescription over the past few years, you’ve likely noticed that drug prices have been rising. Spending on prescription drugs rose 8 percent last year, and nearly one-third of this increase can be attributed to the higher cost of drugs.

We at One Medical are keenly aware of this issue, which is why we work with our patients to utilize lower-cost brand or generic drugs whenever quality is not compromised, in order to maximize value.

However, sometimes writing a prescription for a generic medication is not enough to keep costs to a minimum. In fact, according to a new study just published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, it matters just as much where you fill your prescription when it comes to managing costs.

As part of the study, investigators evaluated the cost of three generic drugs – digoxin, lisinopril and carvedilol – at 177 pharmacies within the St. Louis area.

Let’s take a look at what they found for lisinopril, a hypertension and heart health medication used by many of our patients:

  • A 30-day prescription for lisinopril 10 mg: $3.00 to $89.50
  • A 30-day prescription for lisinopril 40 mg: $14.18 to $87.59
  • A 90-day prescription for lisinopril 10 mg: $17.39 to $205.99
  • A 90-day prescription for lisinopril 40 mg: $34.25 to $223.90

The range was even greater for digoxin and carvedilol: a 90-day supply of carvedilol 25 mg showed a price range of $180.46 to $1,144.98!

You might think that these huge price variations reflect the costs imposed by the various manufacturers of each generic medication, or the pharmacy zip code (with wealthier areas showing higher prices), or the particular drug store chain. But you would be wrong. Instead, the cost of the medication was almost exclusively a function of each individual pharmacy setting its own price.

The takeaway: When it comes to managing prescription costs, it pays to shop around.

GoodRx is a great place to start – GoodRx’s drug price search tool allows you to compare prices for your prescription at pharmacies near you.

Whenever possible, you can also use mail order pharmacies or other programs that offer low-cost formularies. The Walmart Retail Prescription Program, for example, will sell 90 days worth of lisinopril for $10. Unfortunately, these programs do not always include all medications – Walmart, for instance, does not include digoxin in its formulary – so you may have to find appropriate substitutes for some drugs.

Pricing variability can impose a huge financial burden on our uninsured or underinsured patients who have fewer options. And even when insurance companies are footing the bill, unnecessary spending on overpriced medications raises premiums for all of us.

So, do your homework. There’s no need to pay extra for the exact same drug.

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Malcolm Thaler

Malcolm enjoys being on the front lines of patient care, managing diagnostic and therapeutic challenges with a compassionate, integrative approach that stresses close doctor-patient collaboration. He is the author and chief editor of several best-selling medical textbooks and online resources, and has extensive expertise in managing a wide range of issues including the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sports injuries. Malcolm graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College, received his MD from Duke University, and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Harvard's New England Deaconess Hospital and Temple University Hospital. He joined One Medical from his national award-winning Internal Medicine practice in Pennsylvania and was an attending physician at The Bryn Mawr Hospital since 1986. He is certified through the American Board of Internal Medicine. Malcolm is a One Medical Group provider and sees patients in our New York offices.

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.