Prescriptions From CVS and Walgreens Might Be Cheaper Elsewhere



The amount of prescription medication being dispensed in the U.S. has increased substantially over the years. In 2020, more than 6.3 billion prescriptions were filled in the country, according to Statista. CVS and Walgreens are responsible for doling out a majority of those meds, and there’s a good chance you’ve made one of those drugstores your go-to. But even if you’re devoted to CVS or Walgreens, a new report could have you on the lookout for a new pharmacy. Read on to see if you can be persuaded to take your prescriptions elsewhere.

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CVS Pharmacy prescription medicine drop off pickup counter, Saugus Massachusetts USA, March 6, 2019

While millions of Americans are being prescribed medication every single day, high costs keep people from actually getting what they need. A 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis found that 3 in 10 adults in the U.S. who need a prescription drug did not take it as directed because it was too expensive to buy. Instead, these recipients said they either split pills in half or skipped doses to stretch out each purchase, while 1 in 6 of the respondents said they did not fill their prescription at all.

“Certain groups are much more likely to report difficulty affording medication, including those who take four or more prescription drugs, those with chronic conditions in their households, and those with an annual household income of less than $40,000,” KFF said.

woman trying to make a decision

If you get your prescriptions from CVS or Walgreens, you might be spending more money than you need to. According to the experts at Consumer Reports, buying your prescription medication from online pharmacies is often a cheaper solution. The nonprofit consumer organization analyzed four different online pharmacies: Cost Plus, GeniusRx, Honeybee, and Ro Pharmacy. They found that all five of the generic medications they shopped for cost less than the average $12 copay most people with employer-provided insurance pay for generic drugs, and there were no added fees.

“Online pharmacies can be a great deal, especially if you take common generic drugs on a recurring basis,” Consumer Reports concluded.

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doctor making pills prescription online, using mobile phone, filling medical chart

Consumers often face trouble with prices at big-name pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens—even if they have health insurance, which might “require a person to meet a drug deductible by spending $1,000, $2,000, or more before coverage and discounts begin,” Stephen Schondelmeyer, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical care and health systems at the University of Minnesota, told Consumer Reports. “Or consumers are sometimes charged a percentage of a drug’s high price tag instead of a low copay.”

But according to Consumer Reports, many of the online pharmacies say they keep prices down by not accepting insurance. Lisa Faast, PharmD, founder of pharmacy consulting firm DiversifyRx, and the owner of multiple pharmacies in Texas and Louisiana, told the organization that this allows the companies to avoid additional charges and fees that might come from an insurer.

pharmacist filling prescription

Still, there are downsides to buying your prescription medication from online pharmacies. For one thing, you might not be able to find your meds on these sites, as Consumer Reports concluded that Cost Plus, GeniusRx, Honeybee, and Ro Pharmacy are not “full-service pharmacies offering a comprehensive selection of medications.” And many of these companies also don’t ship medications to all states.

Extra costs might find their way into your orders as well. “If you need a drug quickly—for example, an antibiotic to treat an infection—these sites might not be useful because delivery is never immediate,” Consumer Reports said. “If you need medication faster, expect to dig into your pocket. Priority shipping at GeniusRx costs $4.99 and will get your meds to you in up to three business days. At Cost Plus, expedited shipping costs $15.”

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