Recently, experts from the USC Schaffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and Harvard Medical School reported that most Americans don't seek out-of-pocket price information before receiving care. The survey of 3,000 adults shows that fewer than 1 in 7 patients had sought out-of-pocket cost information before their visit. Most surveyed, however, agreed that costs were an important factor when choosing a health care provider. The survey also showed that most did not think the more expensive providers gave better quality care. Additionally, an established relationship with a provider was a strong incentive to not comparison shop.
While this survey looked at medical care, the same need to comparison shop can apply to the pharmacy marketplace. With drug prices continually increasing and high insurance deductibles and copays, many patients are left unable to afford critical medications. Many patients skip doses or, even more dangerously, never fill medications to begin with. Many Americans are either uninsured or under-insured, forcing them to pay significant amounts for their life-saving medications. What many patients don't consider, however, is that shopping around for prescriptions and talking to a knowledgeable pharmacist can lead to big savings.
A study published in the American Journal of Managed Care showed that within a single zip code in Los Angeles County, the cash price for a commonly prescribed antibiotic varied on average by $52 depending on the pharmacy. USC researchers found that prices were lowest at independent pharmacies and when using online coupons compared to prices found chain, grocery, or big-box stores. Researchers expect the findings to be generalizable outside of the LA area.
The study indicates that patients can potentially save significant amounts simply by comparison shopping within their neighborhood.
When shopping around, it is important to remember the role that your pharmacist can play in protecting you and your health. Because pharmacists analyze your medications for interactions and safety, it is important to fill all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy. If you're unable to do that, make sure your pharmacist knows all of the medications and supplements that you are taking.
More importantly, don't forget the role that your pharmacist can play in helping you with cost concerns. Many pharmacists are willing to spend additional time with you to make recommendations that can lead to cost-savings. Many physicians have limited access to what medications cost and are willing to work with pharmacists to identify ways to save patients money, sometimes including the prescribing of an alternate medication. Some pharmacies also have programs available to save you money -- ask. Finally, many pharmacies offer price matching, -- ask. Pharmacists can also help save patients money by evaluating available insurance prescription plans during open enrollment windows, typically in the last few months of the year.
While the reasons for high medication costs are complex, if you have concerns, talk to a knowledgeable pharmacist willing to spend the time with you. Start shopping around if medication prices have you bothered, or worse, you're not taking your medications as directed because of cost.
You might also be interested in reading:
Financial Hardship and Taking Medications
Medications Don't Have to Control Your Life: Simplifying Medications
The Gatti Blog
Information, tips and more from the Gatti Pharmacists and staff.