A Tale of Two Pharmacies: How to Afford Your Medication Even Without Insurance

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Today we’re talking about how to afford your medication…even WITHOUT insurance.

That’s right….we’re talking about drugs, man.

Image result for drugs man meme

Specifically we’re talking about an experience where I overpaid for mine and what you can do to avoid the very same pitfall.

Storytime – How NOT to Afford Your Medication

So a little while ago I used CVS for monthly refills of my Fluoxetine.

When I had insurance things were gravy, I didn’t pay much at all.

That was until, I didn’t have insurance anymore. After I left my corporate job the cost of the generic Prozac I was taking went from roughly $8 to $60, for only a one month supply.

Now this may not seem like a lot to some, but as a young person with lots of bills to pay in this crazy world, shelling out $60 a month wasn’t sustainable. It was almost enough to make me want to quit taking the meds, but I knew I needed them so I kept going.

I just figured that was the breaks of not having insurance and $60 would be the price at any pharmacy. So I shrugged it off and kept getting my scrip filled at CVS for a few months.

As it happens, my husband takes the same medication I do, except he gets his prescription filled at Walmart.

One day, being the great wife I am, I went to pick up his new 3 month supply of Fluoxetine. In the checkout, I braced for the impact of the cost of 90 pills. I hoped it was at least going to be under $150. Fingers crossed.

Then the pharmacist said something that made my heart stop: “$10 please.”

I sputtered, “W-what? That’s for a 3 month supply are you sure?”

“Yep,” he smiled, “3 month supply.”

And that was the day I learned not all pharmacies are created equal. It was also the day I switched my prescription to Walmart.

The Plot Thickens

But that whole interaction left me with questions.

Why on God’s Green Earth was the same medication such a vastly different price at two different pharmacies in the same area code?

What the heck was going on here?

I did a little research and came upon this here video explaining that drug companies sell generics at such a low cost (less than .30 cents for a lot of them) that pharmacies can potentially sell a year’s supply of drugs for under $20 and still make a HUGE profit.

Which explains why Walmart can afford to sell a 90 pill prescription at such reasonable rates.

What it doesn’t explain is why CVS chose to charge such an insane amount for a 30 day supply.

I mean, the word greed came to my mind. But that seems fairly reductive. I wanted to give CVS a chance since I think they’re a decent company with pretty good values.

So I did some digging and found this article by ConsumerReports.com which states the following:

A representative of CVS told us that its retail drug prices reflect other services offered by the chain, including drive-through windows, automated prescription refill systems, free outreach programs to help make sure patients are taking their prescriptions correctly, and 24-hour pharmacies. Costco pharmacies, the cheapest overall, are open only from 10 a.m. to 7 or 8:30 p.m. and are typically closed on Sundays.

“Big-box stores such as Costco and Walmart use the pharmacy as a traffic builder for their stores, whereas traditional chain stores, such as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens, make the majority of their revenue and profits from the pharmacy,” says Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, Ph.D., Pharm.D., a professor of pharmacy economics at the University of Minnesota.

Consumer Reports magazine: May 2013

Since CVS’ main function is a pharmacy, they can’t really afford to subsidize the cost of their generics like a Costco or a Sam’s Club. They also stopped selling tobacco products some time ago, which was probably their highest source of revenue besides the pharmacy itself.

So it makes a little more sense now as to why CVS would cost more versus Walmart.

Why is All This SO Important?

Did you know that, according to the PAN Foundation Website, patients are four times more likely to stop taking their meds if they have a $50 or more copay? And an estimated 58% of Americans have delayed or gone without medical treatment because of high prescription costs.

I can almost guarantee without seeing the numbers that percentage is much higher for mental health patients.

I know how it feels. If you feel like you have to choose between groceries and your Prozac, which one are you going to realistically go for? That’s right – the thing that keeps you alive in the moment.

The problem is you really do need to take your medication. Your mental health is of the utmost importance. Without proper mental health care, everything else you do to stay alive and successful is 10X harder. Which just breaks you down further.

So it’s critical that you learn how to afford your medication, even when you don’t feel like you can.

Tips on How To Afford Your Medication

What does all this mean for us, then?

Well, as always, knowledge is power. And knowing where to get your medications the cheapest is incredibly helpful to your fight to stay stable as a mental health patient.

Here’s eight of my top tips for getting meds affordably:

  1. If you don’t have insurance – it’s best to avoid places like CVS, Walgreens, Target, Rite Aid, etc. unless you have GoodRx, a Prescription Savings Plan, or a PAP (Prescription Assistance Program offered to low income customers by the drug companies themselves).
  2. Buy Generics – no brainer here, buy generics if at all possible. Don’t pay more for a name brand.
  3. Shop around. Seriously, you could hit my Walmart with a rock if you stood in my CVS parking lot. They’re literally less than a mile from each other and have vastly different prices. No excuse not to compare prices. ScriptSave from WellRx is a great resource to find the lowest prices on prescriptions in your area code.
  4. Go to COSTCO. Big Box store COSTCO has arguably the best prescription costs out there and it’s 100% open to the public, no membership required. This is especially good for those who don’t have insurance.
  5. Buy a 90 day supply whenever possible. A lot of times, pharmacies will have discounts if you order a 90 day supply vs a 30 day supply – kind of like a BOGO but for your pills.
  6. Ask lots of questions. Go on – be that guy. Get a list of questions together and grill your pharmacist (in a nice way) to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.
  7. Check out the PAN FoundationThe Patient Access Network Foundation literally saved my Mom’s life by helping her afford a very expensive oral chemotherapy drug. They do the same for patients in need all across the U.S. If you’re looking at a high pharmacy bill I highly suggest you check out their grant programs!
  8. Support the push for Universal Healthcare – We wouldn’t have to do all these bureaucratic acrobatics if we just had a universal system that provided adequate healthcare for all. Seriously, it’s time. So call. your representatives, get educated, and demand change. It will literally save lives.

Wrap Up – How to Afford Your Medication

So there you have it. A little knowledge and a few tips to help you manage your mental health even in this crazy, screwed up, backwards Capitalist world. I hope it helps, my friends!

Much Love,


P.S. On a related note: supporting Mental Health Parity Compliance Laws will also help change this inequitable prescription drug system. To learn more about this check out our article on Making Mental Healthcare More Equitable as well as visit the Kennedy Forum’s website for important Parity Law updates.

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1 thought on “A Tale of Two Pharmacies: How to Afford Your Medication Even Without Insurance”

  1. Wow, it’s bizarre that there’s such a massive difference. In Canada drugs are cheaper at Costco and Walmart, but for generics the difference is only a few dollars.

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