PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It seems almost every adult is on a prescription drug, not just seniors, but younger and middle aged.
“The vast majority of people are on some kind of medication in that age group,” Dana Rattenbury, a health insurance consultant, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.
Like Phillip Lambert who needs insulin, but then discovered, like so many others, his prescription drug cost jumped to $1,800 a month.
“I thought it was ridiculous, and especially for something as common as diabetes,” said Lambert.
Rattenbury, who counsels individuals on prescription drug costs, says most never shop around for better deals.
Rattenbury: “Only 17 percent of those on medications do any kind of research.”
Delano: “So they could be paying more than they should?”
Rattenbury: “They most times, often times, they are. They are paying more than they should.”
Even those with employer health insurance may be getting ripped off.
“Just because you have an insurance card doesn’t mean you have to use it. You’re allowed to shop around,” notes Rattenbury.
“It’s a different approach. People have been well trained to just present the insurance card and they’ve got a co-pay, but they could actually pay less for that medication.”
That’s especially true as deductibles and co-pays keep going up, and some plans require the customer to pay thirty to fifty percent of the drug price.
What’s so surprising is the price for the same prescription can be very different depending on where you buy it.
Take Metformin, a common drug for Type 2 diabetes.
“Metformin can be as low as four dollars and as high as 18 or 20 right here within a five mile radius,” notes Rattenbury.
That’s a 500 percent difference.
“The industry has had a lot of changes over the last couple of years,” says pharmacist Adam Rice.
Rice is the co-owner of Spartan Pharmacy, and he says consumer failure to shop around allows some pharmacies to take advantage.
Delano: “Why is there such a big difference in pricing for the same drug?”
Rice: “I have to be honest with you. I think it’s probably because there are pharmacies out there that aren’t banking on people price shopping.”
Bottom line — it’s time to rethink where we buy prescription drugs.
Even though we found prescription drug prices all over the map, there are ways for consumers to find the best price at a local pharmacy. and you might even get a coupon to further reduce that price.
First, go online.
“All it takes is a few minutes,” she says.
Type in the drug you need — say metformin — go for a larger quantity, enter your zip code.
In this particular case, “It shows the Giant Eagle could give it to me for $4.00, CBS has it for $19.39, and Rite-Aid has it for $35.99.”
Of course, a pharmacy more expensive on one drug may be the cheapest on another.
Second, look for coupons, both on these websites as well as the websites of those who make and sell the drugs.
Third, talk to your doctor about cheaper generics for higher-priced brands.
“There’s a tendency to prescribe a lot of brand drugs here in western PA.”
Fourth, consider online drug purchases but be wary of international sources.
“I would caution that if you’re going to use a pharmacy, an internet drug company that it have the VIPPs which is the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice,” advises Rattenbury. “That way you know they clearly operate in the United States.”
Fifth, just walk into a pharmacy and say you’re comparing prices.
“When we hear a patient begin to talk about the price and complain,” says pharmacist Rice, “it’s time for the pharmacist to step over and take some time with the customer and talk to them about other alternatives.”
Those alternatives mean a better deal and more cash for you.