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Shopping for Drug Savings

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By Roleplayer
August 12, 2008

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I apologize in advance if this post names several specific sites in violation of TMF's TOS. I did a lot of research in making our purchasing decisions, and they are specific to California. I tried to list every place I looked at that had some savings, even if they (like Target and Sam's Club) did not offer savings for me specifically. Amongst the places I did not recommend are Rite-Aid, which has started a pilot program for cheaper generic drugs in two (maybe three) states but not yet in California, and Longs, whose web site was less than useful to us. The net result is that I have my prescriptions on separate forms intended for three different places: Wal-Mart (or Target, their generic drug plans are the same, and the stores are pretty much the same distance for us); Walgreen's; and non-generic prescriptions through my insurance company's mail order pharmacy for a 90 day supply. Less convenience for me, but several hundred dollars a year in savings. And lest you think that this won't appeal to you young whippersnappers out there, half of the country is female, and there are a lot of generic drugs women consider taking that men don't. I don't know anybody, men or women, who objects to saving money for minor inconvenience at most.

I take more legal drugs than almost anybody. But having lost 45 pounds since November, my doctor has started cutting me back. I saw him today for my quarterly checkup. My cholesterol is 130, which is not quite too low, and my blood pressure was 106/67 in the office, which is where the cutbacks are starting, and my A1C (blood sugar) is 5.9, which is normal for the first time ever for that test. And I've done some significant research which I *think* could help some Fools who take generic prescription drugs, and I discussed my plans with my doctor (board certified) and he gladly filled out the extra forms for us. If you use any generics, I put a *lot* of research into this, and I'm pretty well educated (my father was a doctor, I've worked in hospitals) as well as fluent in red tape (essential for dealing with insurance companies).

This all started because my wife needed a *REALLY* old (and thus cheap) generic medicine that with our last insurance company was a 90 day supply for $7, even though the normal tier one 90 day co-pay was $30. But the new insurance company was supposedly $30. So we started digging. And you know what: the new insurance company only charges $13. But having learned that our new insurance company doesn't match prices of our old one, we decided to see if we can beat that. It turns out, we could.

Basically, there are five major sources I would consider.

First source: Wal-Mart Pharmacy. They now have a $4/$10 rate on 30/90 days worth of generic medicines for many generics (about 400, they say). I take *three* generics Wal-Mart sells that my mail order pharmacy would charge me $30 each instead of $10. That's a savings of $20/quarter times 3 medicines. My wife takes two more, so we're up to $100/quarter savings. And finally, there's an extra $3 on that one generic that started the whole process. So we're saving $103/quarter by picking up our drugs at Wal-Mart Pharmacy. It costs us roughly three gallons of gas for the round trip to the "big" city (Fresno is one of the 50 largest cities in the USA, believe it or not), and we can also shop at Costco and FoodMaxx (more savings), invest those savings into big screen or even Imax bliss (matinees are cheaper) and decent dinners, and come out well ahead.

Second Source: Target has almost the same plan as Wal-Mart, but seems to have fewer drugs covered, they say 300 (so far). Both companies are expanding their lists all the time. If you live near a Target but not a Wal-Mart, then they could be better for you.

Third Source: Walgreen's Pharmacy has a $12/90 day supply generic plan with two kickers, one bad, one good. First kicker is you have to buy a Walgreen's discount card, for $20/year for individuals, or $35/year for families (only two adults per family). That card also gives you a 10% discount on all Walgreen's purchases, which might be useful for you; there are more Walgreen's than Targets or Wal-Marts, and they are smaller (more convenient for some purchases). Second kicker is that Walgreen's list of generics is larger than Wal-Mart's. I have one drug on Walgreen's list not at Wal-Mart's. The first month it will cost me $2 more (savings is $18, but I have to pay $20 for the annual fee); the other three months it will save me $20 each. Averaged quarterly savings is about another $16. Again, note that Wal-Mart charges $2 less per 90 day supply if both cover it. But if Walgreen's was in Oakhurst, then we wouldn't save anything by driving to Fresno. I expect Wal-Mart to start covering that generic before the year is up, but what the heck; savings is savings.

Fourth plan is Costco pharmacy (Sam's Club is probably similar, but I don't belong to them). When I had no insurance, before the $4 plans were created, it was *much* cheaper to get drugs in bulk (180 days worth) from Costco pharmacy than anywhere else. I doubt that has changed.

Net result is that we can expect savings of over $100/quarter (after gas) by making the trip to Fresno for Wal-Mart and Walgreen's. Your mileage may vary.

The fifth possibility is getting from somewhere outside the USA, and this can be an even bigger savings for non-generics, some of which I pay up to $100/quarter for. *I* wouldn't go mail order; the chance of drugs getting stopped on the border is too high for me. However, I will report what my doctor told me today when I told him I needed a new Rx instead of taking pills that "expired" in 2004 (they still work for me, though, giving an excellent night's sleep last night). He said a drug rep saw the manufacturing process for that drug with English labels (for the USA), French labels (Canada) and Spanish labels (Mexico). Same pills off the same assembly line. English label said the pills should be discarded after 3 years, French 5 years, Spanish 10 years. I cite this both for expiration date knowledge and for my opinion on the safety of getting drugs from Canada or Mexico. Same pills, remember. So if you are near a border, it could well make sense to do the drive, and trust mail order or not depending on your degree of desire to save money. But you'd best do your due diligence on finding a legitimate pharmacy there, and I don't know the laws about bringing in legal prescriptions these days. I recall on my honeymoon my dad gave us prescriptions for Belladonna to bring back from England which had not switched to a Belladonna alkaloid which didn't offer him relief, and we had no hassles then with several bottles of Belladonna from several chemists throughout England. But that was a long time ago with a more enlightened Republican administration.

The important thing is *not* to just believe that you are getting the best deal from your medical insurance, at least in the USA, even if you are using their mail order pharmacy. There are alternatives, and there are a lot of different drugs you can save money on. And the more people start taking advantage of the discounts available, the more pressure there will be on the insurance companies to stop overcharging us on medicines that we all know they are getting for less. I know, they'll only charge the companies more, but that expense is shared; we Fools will be the ones who save on our prescriptions. It took me about four hours to do my research (phones and internet) which is about $100/hour saved, after taxes. I doubt it took you that long to read this post.

If you save some money, buy a share or two of AMD; my lonely out of the money shares could use the company ;-)

Fool on,
Roleplayer