On Saturday, I ran out of a medication I take and had to get a refill. My health plan is a high deductible plan, which means all of my medication costs are paid directly out of pocket. Because I pay out of pocket, I am exposed to something many don’t get to see–the actual retail cost of drugs. The interesting, and annoying, thing you discover is that the retail cost for a drug can vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy. For instance the drug I take costs just shy of $40 at Bartell Drugs, but only costs $10 when filled through Costco.
Given that the retail price of prescription drugs varies so much, it is in my best interest to spend a little time figuring out where the best deal is. Unfortunately, virtually all pharmacies make this kind of price shopping very difficult to do. Most do not list their prices on their website, and worse, most will not be able to even give you a ballpark estimate over the phone. In fact, many pharmacies don’t know the price you will pay until after they fill your prescription and bill your insurance–basically, you won’t know the price until you have to pay for it at the register!
So there I was at Costco on a Saturday waiting in line to pick up my order. Costco on a Saturday, as you probably know, is a bit of a madhouse. There were at least four people ahead of me in line all waiting on somebody with a large order. Whatever money I saved on my prescription was spent in time, not only in terms of the wait in line, but the travel required to get to the 4th Ave. Costco. There are two pharmacies within walking distance of where I live but I know for a fact that one of them wants $40 for the medication and I don’t want to risk going to the other one and find out they also charge $40 (or worse, more!). Worse, neither one of them have my prescription and I’d have to go through the hassle of transferring it to them and then transferring it back to Costco for the next refill.
If I had the tolerance to deal with whatever bureaucracy and FDA regulations surround prescriptions, I’d create a service that lets *you* hold on to the prescription at all times. This way you could get your prescription filled at any pharmacy without doing a transfer. This wouldn’t solve the much more annoying pricing issue–I’m not quite sure how to fix that. I’m fairly certain the reason most pharmacies won’t/can’t give a straight answer about the price you pay is because for the most part consumers have had no reason to care what the actual retail cost of their medications are. I hope that as more people get onto high deductible plans that have them pay for medication out of pocket, pharmacies will be pressured into disclosing how much they charge for the medications they sell.