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Who has the lowest generic drug prices?

Posted at 3:57 PM, Feb 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-09 16:20:24-05

If you take any regular medication, we don't have to tell you that prices have been rising.  

Even worse: Prices are soaring for name brands, and for the first time ever, generics.

Some generic drugs that used to cost $10 or less for a month's supply have risen to $50 or more in recent months.

Pharmacists have to explain price hikes

Tom Mullaney is a pharmacist caught in a tight spot when it comes to what he has to charge for some generic drugs at Mullaney's Pharmacy, an independent drugstore.

"A lot of the generics have gone up in price significantly," he said.

In recent months, many of his customers have been stunned by sudden and sharp increases in their prescription costs, "as much as 200 percent, even 1,000 percent," Mullaney said.

Among patients feeling the pinch: Bob Morris. "I thought they were kidding me," Morris said.

Morris takes a generic version of Actos, a popular diabetes drug that's seeing a big jump in price in 2015. 

"My Actos generic went from $18 to $193 a month," he said. It was a case of sticker shock.

We compare prices

We saw some of that sticker shock firsthand when we went into several store pharmacies and asked how much a 30-day supply of generic Lipitor would cost (cash price) without an insurance co-pay.

Congress and several state attorneys general also want to know the reasons for the price hikes, and recently held hearings in Washington,D.C.

Lawmakers learned that consolidation of drugmakers means fewer companies making generics, which means less competition and higher prices.

"There are two sides to it," Mullaney said. "One is free market, they can charge whatever they want. But the other side is: Is it right?"

Good news: Some basic generics, such as Amoxicillan, Penicillin, Cipro and even Lipitor's generic, are still $4 at many stores.

However, even at those stores, prices for other drugs (like Actos) are rising sharply.

While the debate rages, there are some simple things you can do.

What you can do

Start by comparing pharmacies. Best of all, you don't have to visit them, as most pharmacies will tell you their cash price if you call.

We called Target, Walgreens, Sam's Club, and a regional supermarket. We compared four drugs:

  •     Lipitor generic, for cholesterol
  •     Ambien generic, for sleep
  •     Lexapro generic, for depression
  •     Actos generic, for diabetes

Our results:

  • Sam's Club was consistently cheapest.
  • Walgreens was consistently the most expensive.

Example: Lipitor was $29 at Sam's, $63 dollars at Walgreens even with a discount coupon.

But there's an even easier way to check prices using some new websites and apps.

Website comparison tool

We tried out a site top rated by Consumer Reports magazine, (it also has a top rated smartphone app)

At GoodRX:

  •     Health (an online retailer also highly rated by Consumer Reports) was top   rated
  •     Target was in the middle of the pack.
  •     Walgreens was 2nd to most expensive.
  •     CVS was the most expensive. 

GoodRx does not typically include Sam's or Costco, however, so it should not be the end-all of your checking. It also does not include local pharmacies like Mullaney's, which may price match other prices you find.

Consumer Reports Magazine — in its most recent comparison — found Sam's club and Costco cheapest, with Walgreens and CVS again the priciest.

Prices still too high? Tom Mullaney said talk with your doctor about other options.

"The first thing I would do is see if there is something similar that hasn't gone up in price."

That way you can avoid sticker shock as those generic prices continue to rise, and you don't waste your money.

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