Is the cost of your prescription drugs overwhelming?
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Many of us do price comparisons at the grocery store or when shopping for a big ticket item like an appliance or car. A lot of people do not realize how much the price of prescription drugs can vary from place-to-place. With health care plans changing, KREM 2 On Your Side looked into why shopping around may be more important than ever.
Jim and Barb Blencoe have shared a lot of laughs and love over the years.
"We sneak a kiss always," said Barb Blencoe.
"Yeah, not too bad, 60 years almost," added Jim Blencoe.
Time also delivered a painful diagnosis for Barb: a nerve condition called neuropathy.
"It's like pins and needles all over your feet and legs," said Barb Blencoe.
Barb Blencoe relies on the medication Lyrica to help control the pain.
"I wouldn't be in very good shape without it,” said Barb Blencoe.
Barb Blencoe called Lyrica her "golden pill" because of its hefty price tag. KREM 2 on your Side discovered the cost varied a great deal.
KREM 2 News called several big name pharmacies: Rite aid, Shopko, Walgreens, Fred Meyer, Costco, Medicine Shoppe, Walmart, and Target. KREM 2 On Your Side found prices ranging from $331.99 to $251. That is a price difference just a penny shy of $81.
KREM 2 News also checked out prices for Jim Blencoe’s cholesterol medications.
"[My doctor] wrote me a prescription for Lipitor,” said Jim Blencoe. “Now Lipitor is very expensive, if you've checked."
The cash price for Lipitor (20 milligrams) was highest at Walgreens at $268.99. Costco quoted the lowest at $235.56.
"I said I'm not paying that, so [the doctor] gave me a prescription for a generic," said Jim Blencoe.
Jim Blencoe’s generic came in highest at Walgreen's at about $147.00. KREM 2 News found if you are a paying member of their discount program, the cost drops to $64.99. Costco came in lowest on the drug at $15.59.
"It's extremely confusing," said Dr. John White, with the College of Pharmacy at Washington State University.
White said one reason behind the price swings is that larger corporations often get a better deal because they can buy in massive quantities. He added some businesses use low prescription prices to draw you in.
"Because the pharmacy determines it's worth selling certain prescriptions at a very low price just to get people in the door, to buy other things," said White.
KREM 2 News was almost always offered the generic at a much lower cost. One drug’s price of $137.69 was reduced to $9.99 for its generic.
Barb Blencoe’s insurance company initially insisted she take a generic instead of Lyrica. The generic did not work after 90 days.
"At the end, I said ‘no, I can't. I've got to have the more expensive,’" said Barb Blencoe.
White said Barb Blencoe was the exception. In the vast majority of cases, he said the generic would work just as well at a much lower cost.
"The generic contains the same exact active ingredient and it has to be tested," said White.
The price spread for generics could still be great. Antibiotic Azithromycin, for example, was $46.74 at RiteAid and $12.75 at Shopko.
A question remained: if you have insurance picking up most of the tab, should you bother looking for the best price?
“As a consumer, I think it's incumbent upon you to get the best deal that you can even though your insurance company is paying for it. You're still paying for it in the long run," said White.
White offered caution. White believed you should shop around first, then settle on a pharmacy and stay.
"And if you do that, you'll gain the benefit of the knowledge of the pharmacist and that can really in the long run save you a lot of money."
To settle on a pharmacy, consumers could consider checking the price comparison website Goodrx.com.
The site not only shows estimated prices at pharmacies in a given area, it also offers printable coupons for deep discounts.
Many pharmacies told KREM 2 News they do price match, so consumers should tell their pharmacist if they found a drug cheaper elsewhere.
"I think it's imperative unless you have unlimited cash flow," said Jim Blencoe.
Jim Blencoe already had success shopping around for one medication.
"I saved 40 bucks going elsewhere," he said. "I might have a place to put that 40 bucks. That might be more enjoyable!"