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FOX 4 investigation finds not all pharmacies created equal, savings can be closer than you think

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Millions of Americans know the reality: prescription drug prices are so high that many people find themselves making tough choices.
A FOX 4 investigation uncovered that not all pharmacies are created equal.

The truth is that you don't have to go far to get a significantly better deal. In fact, in a small geographic window FOX 4 uncovered vastly different prices.

"I hate to say this, but on average, I eat once a day. Sometimes I really get hungry," Judy Allister said.

Allister, 76, represents the face of millions of Americans who are stuck in a predicament: pay her bills, eat, or take her 13 prescribed medications?

"This one I'm out of right now, but it's Pravastatin, I take it at bedtime. I don't have the money to pay it, and that's a terrible feeling," Allister said.

She isn't alone in her struggle to pay for medications. A recent study found 77 percent of American's believe prescription drug costs are too high. How high are they in our area?

"One of my prescriptions is $65. At another place its $23 and another it's $27. For the same drug," Allister advised.

FOX 4's investigation uncovered steep price discrepancies at 19 pharmacies on both sides of the state line.

We compared costs for the five most commonly prescribed, non-controlled prescription drugs and the cooresponding generics.

Those medications, according to the national Sigler and Flanders Journal, are: Synthroid, A thyroid medicine, Prinivil for high blood pressure, Prilosec for acid reflux, Neurontin for nerve pain. Also, the Ventolin inhaler, which treats asthma.

FOX 4 checked the cash prices of one pill per day for 30 days and found Walgreens at 25th and Linwood had the highest prices for these three generic drugs. Hy-Vee charged the most for these four.

The best prices?

Costco had the lowest prices on these five prescriptions, and that's without a membership. Members get even steeper discounts.

Walmart had the best buy on Ventolin inhalers, and Albers Medical Pharmacy had the best price on Prilosec's generic.

Speaking of which, possibly the most shocking price discrepancy? The cost of Omeprazole.

Walgreens on Linwood quoted us $67 - $99, but at Albers, just 3.5 miles away, the price was $15 - $60 for the exact same medication. That's a more than a $52 a month difference, or a yearly savings of nearly $630.

"Different size pharmacies have different buying capabilities and that is going to adjust what that medication cost is going to be for the consumer," Dr. Cameron Lindsey, Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Administration at UMKC, said.

Dr. Lindsey says medication pricing is competitive -- just like any other business. The key is to shop around.

"Sometimes it can be as low as $4 in one place and maybe up to $20 in the next place," she said.

It's also critical to have an honest conversation about your financial situation with both your doctor and your pharmacist if you are struggling.

"Sometimes you can get a shorter acting medicine, that you may have to take more often during the day, but it could save you hundreds of dollars in some instances," Dr. Lindsey said

In a world where every dollar counts, this information can make all the difference in the world.

"I really considered not even taking any of my medicines because they were expensive," Allister said.

Dr. Lindsey also recommends asking for generic drugs and coupons.

Company Statements about Prescription Drug Prices

FOX 4 contacted the companies surveyed in our investigation about their prescription drug prices. We also asked if they offered any special programs for those struggling to pay for their medications.

CVS did not respond.​

Albers Medical Pharmacy:

Our pharmacy prides itself on taking care of the whole patient, which includes doing everything we can to work with their insurance company and seeking out discount programs offered by manufacturers. We strive to provide competitive pricing on all medications for non-insured patients and recommend alternative choices when appropriate for cost savings. At Albers, we believe the services we can provide as an independent pharmacy are more personalized and able to match each individual patients needs in order to provide them the best results from their medication therapy. Thanks for reaching out. - Diane Weintraub, R.Ph. Albers Medical Pharmacy

Costco: (*You do not have to be a member to get prescriptions filled at Costco, but members get lower prices. The prices in our survey are for non-members.)

Our Prescription savings program is called the Costco Member Prescription Program (CMPP) and is free to ALL Costco members. The plan provides discounts on all prescriptions including pet medications. The eligibility requirements are:

  • Must be a Costco member
  • Member does not have prescription insurance 
  • Their insurance does not cover the medication they take

Complete information can be found on our Costco.com site, or click the link below:

https://www.costco.com/member-prescription-program-frequently-asked-questions.html

Thank you for your interest and support of Costco Wholesale. - Muriel Cooper Corporate Communications Coordinator Costco Wholesale Corporation

Hy-Vee:

Hy-Vee pharmacists do everything they can to help their patients obtain the prescribed medication they need. Our pharmacists go above and beyond for patients who can't afford their medication. We look for coupons and other savings to lower the cost, as well as work with the prescriber for an equivalent, lower cost alternative. We also have offered $4 and $10 generic lists since early 2008, and we accept the vast majority of all discount prescription cards. Hy-Vee pharmacists take seriously their role in helping to make health care accessible. As a company, we constantly look for ways that we can provide alternatives and access to other health care services — like immunizations, point-of-care testing and medication therapy management — in our communities. When a customer questions the price of a medication, that inquiry gets elevated by the pharmacy supervisors at our corporate office. - Tara Deering-Hansen │ Group Vice President, Communications Hy-Vee, Inc.

Walgreens:

When discussing cash prices, it’s important to note that more than 97 percent of our patients purchase prescriptions using some form of prescription insurance coverage. When choosing a pharmacy, we encourage patients to select one that offers the best value based on pricing and also the services available – such as participation in government plans, 24/7 convenience and services that can accommodate immediate prescription drug needs. 

To assist patients who don’t have insurance, Walgreens offers a Prescription Savings Club (https://www.walgreens.com/pharmacy/psc/psc_overview_page.jsp?ban=rxh_psc_3) card which offers savings on over 8,000 brand and generic medications. Walgreens also accepts a number of other discount program cards.

As for Prilosec, depending on their insurance coverage, patients may find it less expensive to purchase it over the counter for $21.99 versus purchasing it with a prescription. 

Median cash and Walgreens Prescription Savings Club prices for Walgreens stores in Kansas City, Mo.

Brand Drug Name Pricing Quantity Cash Price   Walgreens Prescriptions Savings Club Price   

 

Generic Drug Name Pricing Quantity Cash Price   Walgreens Prescriptions Savings Club Price
Synthroid 50mcg 30 Tablets $           56.99  $               43.11 Levothyroxine 50mcg 30 Tablets $           14.99  $           10.00
Prinivil 20mg 30 Tablets $           46.99  Not Covered Lisinopril 20mg 30 Tablets $           18.39  $              5.00
Prilosec 20mg 30 Capsules $         280.99  Not Covered Omeprazole 20mg 30 Capsules $           66.99  $           17.99
Neurontin 600mg 90 Tablets $         910.99  Not Covered Gabapentin 600mg 90 Tablets $         188.99  $         129.99
Ventolin HFA Inhaler 1 Inhaler $           71.99  $               56.99 No Generic Ventolin --- ---   --- 

- Allison Mack, Sr. Specialist, Media Relations

Walmart:

Walmart, as a whole, is committed to making healthcare and healthier food more affordable and accessible. We’re focused on preventive care and supporting overall well-being across our entire assortment – in stores and online – through in-store events, online education and an expanded assortment of products and services solutions. 

Our business is likely most well-known for our $4 prescription programIt continues to provide customers with access to hundreds of prescriptions for $4 and has saved our customers more than $4.8 billion dollars.

Link to list of Walmart’s $4 prescription drugs:  http://i.walmart.com/i/if/hmp/fusion/genericdruglist.pdf

- Erin Hulliberger,  Walmart Corporate Communications