Summer Shaw was shocked when her prescription was filled. Shaw’s doctor prescribed her 60-day supply of her medication. Unfortunately, she could obtain only 30-day supply for $68 at Walgreens pharmacy. Shaw had explained that her insurance only covered that much, so she just paid that amount of money since she needed that medication. After her prescription ran out, she transferred her prescription to another pharmacy called Fred Mayer. Next time she got her refill for 60 days at the price of only $8.
She said that this difference was huge and choking because she had been under the impression that price for the same medication should be the same and they were not able to charge her any different. She added that she had been under the assumption of the same brand of the medication set the price.
That is the assumption which costs patients more money. It is strange, but people do not shop around for medications like they commonly do when it comes to their regular shopping.
Shaw’s doctor, Linda Petter, was surprised as well. She said that it was a “rude awakening” for her and she was frustrated and angry. She stumbles across the medications price issue after refilling her husband’s prescription. She noticed the price was too high for that medication. She added that she found the issue accidently and after some investigation, she has done, she realized it was widespread more than she has thought. She concluded that if it was happening to her, it was definitely happening to her patients.
Komonews decided to check if there was a real issue and prescriptions could be obtained for a different price in different places. Four women (“the Problem Solvers”) with the same three medications prescribed and the same insurance preferred different pharmacies. So they decided to compare the prices. The results were surprising:
- Fluticasone, a nasal spray, was the only medication, which cost $15 in all the pharmacies;
- Cephalexin, an antibiotic, was the most expensive at Rite Aid pharmacy: $15. At Walgreens, the price was $14.85, $6.99 at Costco, and only $4 at Fred Meyer. With the same insurance coverage, the price at Rite Aid is almost four times higher than in Fred Meyer;
- Paroxetine, an antidepressant; 90-day supply cost $15.99 at Rite Aid, $10 at Fred Meyer pharmacy; Walgreen and Costco were able to refill only 30-day supply for $15 and $12.86 correspondingly.
Pharmacies do not always take a customer’s insurance plan, and this explains the differences in pricing. The best deal a pharmacy can offer – is selling the prescribed medication for cash. The amount of saving depends on pharmacy, but there should such saving option in any case because it comes competitive when it comes to cash.
Eric Harkreader, the spokesman of Rite Aid, explained that many factors affect drug pricing: professional services that pharmacists provide to a customer, overhead to operate the pharmacy, cost of utilities, and cost of the pharmacy’s location. He added that pharmacists were in their places to provide customers with expert advice. Also, they monitored their competitors to be sure that the price was competitive.
Senior Vice President of Costco’s Pharmacies, Victor Curtis, told that he was disappointed that they had not had the lowest cost but Costco was always looking for the best price point in every situation. He added that it was an advantage to a patient to shop at one pharmacy, which had the whole scope of medications needed and where a patient could avoid any negative interactions. He also added his pharmacy was looking for a supplier who can provide Paroxetine at a lower price.
However, according to Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Costco, the lower price is not the only think a customer should think of. Another important point when someone is looking for the place to obtain prescription medications is a service.
The solution for Summer Shaw?
Walgreens, which showed not the lowest prices among the other pharmacies, said that Summer Shaw could obtain medications for a lower price in case if she had the Prescription Savings Club membership at Walgreens.
Robert Elfinger, the Walgreens spokesman, said to KOMO news that there were more than two million people who took and advantage of the Savings Club, which offered more than 400 generic medications for only $1 per week. He pointed out the program offered discounts on more than 8,000 medications with a brand-name and all of the generics. He stated that this option was very attractive for patients without health insurance or those patients whose medications were not covered by their medical insurance plan. Elifinger added that drugs for patients who paid cash for their drugs (less than 3% of all patients) were based on the price set by the drug manufacturer, local competition, and some other factors.
However, when Shaw was obtaining her medications, nobody suggested her to enroll in the Walgreens’ Prescription Savings Club membership, which costs $20 for one year. Shaw said that
But when the women picked up their prescriptions, no one at the pharmacy suggested a club membership – which costs $20 a year for an individual. Shaw said that it was not pleasant to see other companies took advantage of their customers. She added that it was not fair and it was not right.