Tahlequah Daily Press

January 9, 2014

Pharmer's market

Comparison shopping applies to prescription drugs, too

By TEDDYE SNELL
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — The Latin phrase “caveat emptor” – which translates as “buyer beware” – might not be familiar with all local residents, yet most would say they compare prices when shopping for tangible items.

But they might not put prescription medications in that category.

When Ronald Bywater couldn’t get a prescription filled at the discount store he regularly visits, he was referred to a second pharmacy, also part of a large national chain.

Bywater has insurance, but he was getting the prescription filled for a family who is not covered, and he was mortified at the price difference from one store to the next.

“Since I have insurance, I make a $5 co-pay, no matter the prescription,” said Bywater. “But to get a generic refill for this drug – a 30-day refill – would have cost $13.54 at the store I have my prescriptions filled, but at the other store, I was given a price of $181.89, which is 775 percent higher. And it was the same generic drug, because I asked the pharmacist specifically.”

The vast price difference prompted Bywater to call other area pharmacies and get quotes for the same prescription. After contacting three more, he compared prices, and learned that had his original pharmacy had the drug in stock, he would have paid $13.54, or 45 cents per pill.

A second area pharmacy, an independent unaffiliated with a national chain, was asking $21.21, or 70 cents per pill. A third, also an independent pharmacy, gave a quote of $22.13, or 74 cents per pill; a fourth and final pharmacy, which has outlets exclusively in Northeast Oklahoma, quoted $36.47 or $1.21 per pill.

“The average price for the pharmacies other than [the second national chain to which I was referred] is $23.34, or 78 cents each,” said Bywater. “In this time of economic depression and with so many people unemployed, I think the citizens of this great community should know [about the differences].”

When Bywater questioned the pharmacy charging $181.89, he was told “they do not participate in price matching.”

NeoHealth opened its own pharmacy in Hulbert almost two years ago, and Dr. James Myers said they do offer price-matching for their patients.

“We’re a small pharmacy, and we try to keep mark-up low,” said Myers. “We price match with Walmart on certain drugs. We also compare our prices to our patients’ discount card prices and provide cost-effective options. After all, our motto is to provide quality, affordable care to everyone.”

Finding the right balance between discounts, service

Terry Jones, a retired pharmacist who has owned independent drug stores in Northeast Oklahoma for decades, said drug pricing – like anything else – varies from store to store, and people should be mindful of shopping for the best deal.

“It’s called free enterprise. Just because a store is known as a major discount outlet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to have the least expensive prescriptions,” said Jones. “Conversely, a smaller, independent druggist may charge a bit more for a prescription, but delivers superior patient service. I mean, you can’t call [the big box stores] in the middle of the night for an emergency. They’re not going to open their doors to help one patient.”

NeoHealth CEO Scott Rosenthal agrees with Jones.

“Big box stores may offer less-expensive items, but cannot rival smaller pharmacies like NeoHealth when it comes to patient care and service delivery,” said Rosenthal.

Some stores offer prescription club memberships, which provide lower prices on certain items. According to Jones, pharmacies cannot legally charge insurance companies more for a drug than they charge a cash-paying – and likely uninsured – customer. They can, however, offer special pricing to club members.

A quick check of the Reasor’s pharmacy section of its website reveals that while the corporation doesn’t offer a prescription club, it does have a program that provides low-cost generic prescription drugs. Some can be obtained for as little as $4 per prescription, and Reasor’s also offers free antibiotics to patients and their families – with a prescription, of course. An added benefit for those with a Reasor’s card is a discount of 5 cents per gallon of gas – up to 20 gallons – for each prescription filled, regardless of cost. (The card must be used at QuikTrip or Little Reasor’s, neither of which are available in Tahlequah.)

“We don’t have a prescription club,” said Myers of NeoHealth. “Again, we are small, but in the two years we’ve been open, we’ve experienced tremendous growth.

Walmart also offers $4 prescriptions for some medications, but does not have a prescription club advertised on its website.

Walgreens began offering a Rewards program last May. According to the Walgreens website, customers earn 500 points per prescription, or 1,500 points for 90-day prescriptions. Every 5,000 points earned can be redeemed for a $5 discount on future purchases, excluding prescription drugs, dairy, stamps, alcohol, tobacco, phone cards, lottery tickets, charitable donations, transportation passes or money orders.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

To read moreabout where Daily Press readers choose to buy their prescription medications, go to tahlequahTDP.com

tsnell@tahlequahdailypress.com