Consumer Reports’ most recent “secret shopper” comparison of pharmacy drug prices urges patients to shop around. But an interesting subtext is that the analysis provides new evidence that independent pharmacies can be as price-competitive as any pharmacy around.
Some consumers may assume national chain pharmacies universally offer the best deal on prescription drugs because of their purchasing power, potential economies of scale, etc. After calling around more than 200 pharmacies to compare the “cash price” or cost of five popular drugs outside of health insurance coverage, the results suggest what community pharmacists have said all along: don’t overlook independent pharmacies. The results are to be published in the May issue of Consumer Reports magazine and have been posted online.
Granted, the article cited Costco as the most consistently affordable pharmacy and some independent pharmacies offered pricing over the phone that did not lead the pack, in terms of rival pharmacies. In addition, the comparison’s authors suggested that independent pharmacies and grocery stores in rural areas may offer better pricing than those in more urban areas.
Overall, though, the findings indicate that independent pharmacies offer consumers savings on par with and often in excess of those available at national chain pharmacies. Taking the lowest cost offered by independent pharmacies for each of the five drugs, produced a “market basket” cost lower than all pharmacies, including Costco.
In a news release announcing the analysis, Lisa Gill, editor, prescription drugs, Consumer Reports, said, “One of the big takeaways is that you have to ask for the best price and see if your pharmacist will work with you. Especially for the independent pharmacies, if they want to retain your business and loyalty, they will help you get the best price.”
In other comparisons conducted by local news outlets, independent pharmacies consistently come out as price-competitive.
A January 2013 analysis and article by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found independent pharmacies offered lower prices on five drugs examined than did national chains, even when accounting for drug discount cards offered in partnership with several Georgia counties.
Another good example is a 2012 analysis by WISH-TV, Channel 8 in Indianapolis. It found:
“Over and over I-Team 8 found the small, locally-owned pharmacies were cheaper. For Divalproex, used for seizures and migraines, the chain pharmacy charged $106.97. The local independent in Bloomington charged only $21.09. In one year, you would save over $1,030.56.”
Hopefully, more consumers will heed the “shop around” advice and discover the service and value offered by independent community pharmacies.