Friday, January 11, 2008

How Much are Your Prescriptions?

That sounds so much like a commercial, or spam, that I should probably rethink the title. Nah, it's better than my first title "Are you paying too much for your prescriptions" because that definitely sounded like the beginning of an advertisement. I assure you, it's not an ad or even a lead-in to a product commentary… it's just another trick-of-the-trade for saving a little cash.

Last night, while having dinner with my parents, my mom mentioned that she's paying $14 per month for a prescription (through Medicare, I think) and was disappointed that she couldn't fill it for more than one month at a time. I mentioned that if she disregarded her insurance, she could get a 90 prescription and probably save some money. Then I started having flashbacks to my quest to pinch pennies while living in Los Angeles.

Before moving back to Iowa, my insurance plan stated that I would pay a $10 copay for each 30 day prescription. Since I take thyroid medicine daily, I was locked into a monthly expense that frustrated me. Being thrifty, I would find the latest "Transfer your prescription" coupon offer available and take advantage of it. Typically, Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons and Target were my go-to places with an occasional CVS, Rite Aid or Walgreens thrown in. Each month, I would transfer my prescription to the next store and get the advertised bonus of anywhere from a $10 gift card to a $25 gift card. The little extra work in planning, coordinating and driving, was justified in that I was getting a free gift card to spend on groceries or whatever each month. On months where DH or the kids had prescriptions, the total on the gift card was very nice. Unfortunately, they started putting restrictions (such as couldn't have ever had that type of prescription at that location before) on the coupons so I wasn't able to take advantage of it every month unless I wanted to increase the distance I was willing to drive. At least I was saving every once in a while now and it was good while it lasted.

Then again... there's nothing quite as ego-deflating as figuring out that you're not getting the best deal out there. Before we moved back from Los Angeles, I wanted to get our prescriptions refilled so it would be one less thing to worry about during the packing-and-moving-cross-country-trek-and-unpacking-settling- in-chaos that was about to ensue. Our insurance was no longer active, so I was looking for the best rate on prescriptions – online or B&M – to save a little money. I was absolutely sick when I realized that I could have gotten the prescriptions much cheaper all along by not using my insurance. My $10/month copay (and related cheapskate song and dance) could have been traded for what's behind door #1… just buying my prescriptions outright. For one specialized prescription that was costing more than $10/month even with insurance, I was able to get a 90 day prescription for $24 through the pharmacy at Sam's Club. Hmmm…One trip every 3 months to a store I would typically shop at anyhow and save money. Although I had done okay with the transfer coupons, in hindsight, I felt like an inside joke between the folks at the insurance company and the pharmacies. "Ha ha, look how much she's paying for her prescriptions and she thinks she so smart transferring from store to store. What a sucker!" Sucker indeed. My regular thyroid prescription would be $12.95 for a bottle of 100. When we kept researching, we talked to the pharmacist and found out that if the doctor rewrote the script for one of our medications (changing it from 1 pill per day to 2 pills per day of a smaller dosage), we would save significantly. As I mentioned in my blog about saving on bloodwork, it really helps to learn about your medications and treatments so you be an informed patient and save money, as well.

As it turns out, you don't even have to be a member of Costco or Sam's Club to utilize their pharmacies. I called Sam's this morning to find out how much my mom's prescription would be without insurance and was told $4.90 for a 30 day supply or $14.70 for a 90 day supply (compared to $14/month with insurance.) So I ask again - how much are your prescriptions? Try calling your local Sam's Club or Costco pharmacy and ask for a quote and see if you would be saving money by NOT using your insurance card next time.

Ah... maybe I should retitle the post "Does your insurance company laugh at you too?"


  • Michele

    Thanks so much for the advice. I have a monthly pre-natal vitamin I'm paying $30/month with insurance. I'm going to check Sams and Costco and see if I can get it cheaper there. Great idea.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Nicole,

    Is there any concern with purchasing pharmaceuticals with no clear background in the medical sector? Just thinking out loud here - I'm wondering what the consumer index is on places like this. I've 30 years worth of asthma meds in my system, so there's also some personal interest.

    Pax, interesting reading this time around.

  • Nicole Brady

    Maybe I misunderstood your question, Sonny, but it sounded like you took my post as saying "self medicate". If that's how you took it, I apologize - it wasn't intended that way. If that's not what you meant, you'll need to clarify for me... brain isn't working this evening.

    What I'm referring to is taking the prescriptions you already have that you would normally have filled at a grocery or drugstore pharmacy and having them filled at the pharmacy at one of the big box stores. Their rates are killer. Even when my dog needed eyedrops prior to her surgery, the vet recommended I fill the prescription at Costco! She said it was the cheapest place she knew of for this particular pet medication.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, I see. I think I was just concerned about the "benefits" of a brick and mortar place that had a "pharmacy" over a traditional drug store, such as Bartell's (up in Rain Town) or QVC. When I think Costco, I think of a good place to buy Diet Coke for the 250 people who live in my building, not cheap meds. But I think your point was to buy in bulk, and ahead, and with some meds you can probably do that (with the help of a fridge), others, like the kind I have to use must stay at room temp and invariably will depreciate.

    Thanks for clarifying, though. Until next time.

  • Nicole Brady

    Thanks for the Diet Coke laugh, Sonny. Yes, some are cheaper in bulk, but for many it's the same price ratio for a 30 or 90 days supply - it's just nice to be able to purchase it in bulk rather than make three trips.

    Give Costco a call and just ask the pharmacy for a price quote for your regular prescription - 30 day supply like you would normally get. Now I'm curious if it would be cheaper for you! hehe

  • Lily

    While you are doing price comparisons be sure to check It's a prescription discount card that costs only $4.50 a month. They have drug prices on the website.

  • Nicole Brady

    Lily - I appreciate the feedback and will look into it and other of the 'free' card programs. Most of the generic medications are cheaper by not using a prescription card, even if you have insurance. It is worth researching for medications that have yet to reach the generic list.