Prescriptions: Cost Differences up to $600

9:44 AM, Feb 9, 2010   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- In these tight times, every dollar counts. And with all the talk about health care, you will never believe the prescription pinch we found. You could be spending hundreds of dollars more than you need to.

"To some people, it's the decision of, do I get this medicine to help me get better, or do I eat a meal, "said Diana Harmon.

Fortunately for her brother, he did not have to make that kind of decision. "My brother had gotten hurt and when he got out of the hospital they had given him a prescription, "said Harmon.

The prescription was for 60 pills of the anti-nausea drug Zofran. Without health insurance, Harmon says her brother had to pay out of pocket. "In CVS it was $389 for the generic, "said Harmon.
In disbelief, she decided to check out her local pharmacy. "It was $44,"said Harmon.

But how could that be? The same drug, dosage, and count for $345 less. "She called first and was in disbelief when we told her what our price was, "said Buck Ray, owner of Discount Drugs of Swansea.

But it does not stop there. "I called to see what the other stores were charging. Wal-Mart wanted $248, Walgreens wanted $605,"said Harmon.

That's $204 and $651 more than Discount Drugs, her local pharmacy. "That could've been somebody's whole social security check, "said Harmon.

"We had a specific customer just last week that came in and was having to choose between paying their light bill and getting some medications, "said Ray.

He says he is not surprised at the whopping difference in drug prices. "Somebody who may work for a big box store doesn't have the authority to override their prices. Doesn't have the capability to see what their drugs actually cost to know if they're truly overcharging patients, "said Ray.

We did our own comparison of five of the top selling prescription drugs: Lipitor which is used to treat high cholesterol, Hydrocodone used to treat pain, the antibiotic Amoxicillin, Lisinopril which treats hypertension, and Nexium for acid-reflux.

We compared drug prices at CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and Discount Drugs.

20 milligram pills of Lisinopril cost $16.19 at CVS, $17.39 at Walgreens, $7 at Discount Drugs and $4 through Wal-Mart's prescription drug program.

"You figure yes, there's going to be a variance in price of between $5 and $10 just depending on the drug company they get it from, but not hundreds of dollars, "says Harmon.

We contacted Walgreens, CVS, and Wal-Mart and asked about what factors determine how they price prescriptions.

Walgreens [see full statement below] says they offer deep discounts on more than 5,000 brand name and generic medications.

CVS [see full statement below] says drug prices are based in part by a store's local competition as well as other operational factors.

Wal-Mart did not respond to our request.

"Working in retail, I can't price gouge on gas. To me the drug stores are doing nothing more than price gouging, "says Harmon.

Meanwhile, we also asked Wal-Mart, CVS, and Walgreens if they do price matching on prescription drugs. CVS says only on a case-by-case basis. Walgreens and Wal-Mart declined to comment.

CVS corporate office statement:

CVS/pharmacy provides customers with very competitive pricing, better access, more convenient neighborhood locations with drive-thru pharmacy window service, more 24-hour and extended-hour stores, and online prescription ordering for in-store pick-up, a combination that others can't match.
Drug prices are based, in part, by a store's local competition as well as other operational factors.  However, surveying prescription prices across multiple pharmacies does not present a complete picture.  CVS/pharmacy offers our customers programs that add value to having their prescriptions filled at one of our 7,000 locations.  For example, for $10 a year, 90-day prescriptions for more than 400 generic drugs are available at CVS/pharmacy for only $9.99 under the CVS Health Savings Pass program. 

Other factors for customers to consider when choosing a pharmacy include location, convenience, store hours and the relationship they have with their pharmacist.  It is also important for medication compliance and adherence purposes that a patient has their prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy.  The pharmacy needs to know the all of the prescriptions a patient is taking for safety reasons.

While it is not CVS/pharmacy's policy to match prices, a CVS pharmacist is allowed, on a case-by-case basis depending on an individual patient's specific circumstances, to match a prescription price with the approval of their district pharmacy supervisor.

Walgreens corporate office statement:

We urge people to find one pharmacy that offers the best value in terms of pricing, convenience, service and accessibility.

In addition to convenient locations and hours, it's important to consider the level of service a drugstore provides. Our services include online pharmacy access, drive-thru service, automated refills, prescription labels available in 14 languages and more 24-hour locations than all drugstore chains combined. Our pharmacy network also allows patients to go to any Walgreens nationwide to refill their prescriptions.

More than 97 percent of our patients purchase their prescriptions through some form of prescription insurance coverage or our Prescription Savings Club.
More than two million people take advantage of our Prescription Savings Club, which offers more than 400 generic medications for a dollar a week. The program also offers deep discounts on more than 5,000 brand name and generic medications and is seen as an attractive option for patients without health insurance or for patients who take medications that are not covered by their health plans. For more information, visit Walgreens' website

Concerning safety: Using one pharmacy allows pharmacists to better monitor patients' medications and avoid potential drug interactions.

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