Advocacy,  Money and Mental Health

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

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Morning everyone, today 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!

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 just a one month supply of generic Prozac went from roughly $8 to $60, for only 60 pills.

WTF MAN!?

I know, I know – it’s crazy. But here’s the really crazy part: 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 on with 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.

The Moral of the Story

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.

So the take-aways from this whole thing are:

  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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. Seriously, I called CVS HQ just to ask questions and they responded by kindly trying to find a way for me to afford my medication at their pharmacy. The squeaky wheel gets the grease my friends.

So there you have it.

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Capitalism but this is one of the times I think it actually does pay off for the people who need it to. You’ve got options, there’s no reason to pay too much.

You can stay healthy, you can still afford your medications even without insurance. You can do this <3

Much Love,

MB

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Mad as Hell Mental Health Rights Advocate. Likes margaritas, long walks on the beach, and JUSTICE.

One Comment

  • ashleyleia

    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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