Nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription medication, and with drug prices growing at twice the rate of inflation, if you want to save money on your family's meds, it's imperative to shop around.
Prices can fluctuate dramatically even from block to block. US Pharmacy Labs owner, pharmacist Suzanne Soliman, says for basic antibiotics, the price can be $5 to $15 in one place and as high as $80 to $100 in another area.
It pays to price compare, you should call around to different pharmacies or let your smart phone do the work -- free online tools and apps like Good RX or RX Saver can help.
"When we shop for paper towels, we look at what's on sale or we know which stores are expensive and which are not, yet we didn't have that with prescription drugs and that doesn't seem fair," said General Internist Dr. Holly Phillips, who is a medical expert and paid spokesperson for RX Saver by RetailMeNot- https://rxsaver.retailmenot.com/ she advocates for the app, saying it gives patients transparency and choice.
"Really prescription prices can be be dramatically different, twice, three times or five times the price from block to block even in NYC," Phillips said.
We took RX Saver for a test drive, punching in a common allergy drug -- the active ingredient in Zyrtec. The app returned generic prices ranging from a low of $5.92 to high of $31.38 (but keep in mind you can also apply your discounts, coupons and club memberships where applicable to the prices listed).
Pharmacists say it also pays to see if the cash price of the drug is cheaper than going through insurance.
Pharmacists are not required to tell patients about lower cost options and at one point a "gag rule" restricted pharmacists from disclosing cheaper-than-insurance cash options -- so it's up to customers to ask.
Soliman also suggested going to a manufacturer website for coupons and to apply for discount programs.
"Especially for very expensive medication, many of my customers are not aware this even exists," Soliman said. "Depending on your income, a manufacturer will provide medication for absolutely no cost."
Next, always compare brand name vs generic or over-the-counter options.
"There's only five in here and there's 30 in here, but mind you even if you buy six boxes of this, it's still cheaper than this," said Yaz Shah of Hudson Drug in Cresskill, New Jersey, as he compared two boxes of common pain relief patches.
The pharmacist added a warning when running around to different stores and pharmacies to try and save money.
"Always check with your doctor or pharmacists before making substitutions, it's important to keep all your info in one place to monitor for drug interactions and duplications," Shah said.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
--Price match: Prices on apps may not reflect what you get with store club prices and other discounts, so always ask what else you can utilize to price match
--Free discount drug cards can also help especially if you're un-insured or under-insured
--Store-based apps like CVS and Walgreens also provide coupons and allow you to earn points toward discounts
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