April 21, 2021
By Ronnie Koenig
A recent survey found that nearly 40% of people reported difficulty affording their prescription medications.
Does it ever seem like prescription drug prices are wildly varied? If you’ve made this observation, you’re absolutely correct — in fact, the same drug can often have different prices depending on who is purchasing it and where. NBC News investigative and consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen reported on a new online pharmacy that could help certain customers cut their costs on generic prescriptions. The company says that their average customer saves about $1000 a year. And in a time when we’re all looking to save money, paying less for that medication can have a big impact.
Zach Zeller and Mark McCormick are co-founders of ScriptCo, a new membership-based online pharmacy that sells generic meds to consumers at wholesale cost. Their revenue comes solely from the cost of membership — $140 a year or $50 for three months — and not off the drugs that they sell to you. Before joining you can see exactly how much you might save by entering your prescriptions on their website to see the wholesale costs. It’s free to check and the site won’t ask for any personal information unless you join.
Nguyen reported that a 30-day supply of the antidepressant duloxetine, a generic of Cymbalta, costs as low as $1.50 with a ScriptCo membership. But looking at GoodRx, a company that tracks drug prices, you’ll find the cost for the same medicine can range from $6 to $59 — a huge difference.
Atorvastatin, the generic for Lipitor, a cholesterol drug, costs $2.10 at ScriptCo but the prices range from $4.67 to $49.39 on GoodRx using a savings club or coupon.
“You look at other medications like the Viagras and the Cialises of the world,” said Zeller. “People are paying $1, $10 a pill for it sometimes. And you know, we’re $0.20 to $0.30 a pill.”
Consumer Stacey Augustin said she’s saving around $400 a year on the eight generic meds she takes to treat high blood pressure, cholesterol and other ailments. But it’s important to note that ScriptCo only sells generics, not brand-only drugs, and no controlled substances. By not accepting insurance, they are able to cut out the middleman. Zeller said that people who take maintenance medication are the ones who can really save big with his site. His own wife, Amy, was rationing her migraine medication due to the high cost — she was paying $44 for each pill even with insurance.
“I dove into our wholesale database and saw that the exact same pill was $2.99 from the same manufacturer,” Zeller said. “I had the natural reaction that I think anyone had, which was being furious…”
ScriptCo is in its early stages now and is so far available in 39 states. The company only has 1387 members right now but for those who are saving big, it’s a game changer.
Other sites, like GoodRx, can help you shop around for the best prices without a membership fee.
While ScriptCo only carries generics, consumers also struggle with paying for brand name drugs. According to research from GoodRx, “nearly 40% of people reported difficulty affording their prescription medications, and over 20% said they struggled to pay for basic necessities like food and shelter as a result.”
To lower costs at the drugstore, the National Association of Chain Drugstores recommends that consumers speak to their pharmacist to “benefit from their insights and from cost-saving pharmacy programs” — including access to generic versions of medications, discount programs and help navigating insurance plans.
4 ways to save money on prescription medication
Lisa L. Gill, health and medicine investigative reporter for Consumer Reports gave TODAY her best tips for finding the lowest prescription prices out there.
- Try to keep all your prescriptions at a single pharmacy. “That’s because your pharmacist needs to know every medication you’re taking in order to avoid the danger of drug interactions,” said Gill. This includes any vitamins, minerals or other herbal supplements.
- Ask your pharmacist if you can get a better price without using your insurance. “There are some generic drugs that are so inexpensive they may be cheaper than your pharmacy copay —but you’ll likely need to ask, otherwise a pharmacist might simply assume you want to use your insurance,” she said.
- If you have a high deductible insurance plan, there’s still hope. “Be aware that through new federal mechanisms, some medication such as drugs to treat heart disease and insulin for diabetes may be available at a low-cost even before you meet an insurance deductible,” said Gill. “This is fairly new and many people with insurance through their employer might only this year have implemented this new lower cost payment model.”
- Don’t have insurance? Tell your pharmacist you’re looking for the lowest price. “They may be able to help enroll you in certain programs for those needing financial assistance, offer generic drug discounts or even provide a month free if you’re newly unemployed.”
In a market where 10 different people can be charged 10 different prices for the same drug, it makes sense to do your homework before picking up those meds.