WICHITA, Kansas – You could be wasting hundreds of dollars at the pharmacy. If you buy your prescription drugs without shopping around, you will be stunned at the difference in price.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for Jeff Guy. He needs six medicines daily for chronic back pain, depression and high blood pressure. Without insurance, he is only able to afford half the $300 supply each month.
We asked Jeff what his pain is like without the medicine.
“It hurts real bad,” said Jeff. “Like someone’s got a hot poker they’re sticking in my back.”
To save money, he often turns the lights and air conditioning off at his home. Like most people, Jeff never thought to shop around for his prescription drugs.
It turns out that the prescription Jeff was paying $107.69 for at Dillons is only $78 at Dandurand Drugs, a savings of $29.69.
“Well, that would help a lot, you know,” said Jeff.
That same prescription runs as high as $345.99 at Target.
The pharmacy manager at Target couldn’t explain why it is priced so high, and their corporate office didn’t return our call.
But that’s only the beginning.
See below for our prescription price survey results
We called all the big name pharmacies in the Wichita area, along with a few locally owned stores, to compare prices on 15 of the most commonly prescribed drugs. The difference is staggering.
The generic form of Zocor, to treat high cholesterol, costs $14.85 at Sam’s club for a month’s supply, but $148.97 at Kmart.
Several chain stores, including Target, Dillons, Walmart and Sam’s Club, sell $4 generic drugs like Mobic, used for arthritis, but the same medicine runs almost $90.79 at Gesslers.
The owner of Gessler’s didn’t want to talk on camera but says it is hard for a local pharmacy to compete with the big chains that also sell groceries and more. What Gessler’s provides, he says, is more personal service.
During our price-checking, we found several cases where the stores that sell $4 generics then jack up the cost of other drugs.
Walmart, for example, charges $246.69 for a migraine medicine you can get at Damm Pharmacies for $32.80; yet many customers never check.
“I think that some of the prices they see for generics, if they see they’re $4 at one place, they figure, ‘Well, they’re probably just as cheap on all their other medications too,’” said Robert Tubbs, a pharmacist at Dandurand Drugs.
Of all the generic drugs we compared, Dandurand had the lowest prices most often, tied with Sam’s Club, whose pharmacy is open to non-members. If this sounds like David versus Goliath, consider that Dandurand has one of the few compounding labs in Wichita to make customized medicines.
“Hopefully we can make a connection there, and maybe they’ll start getting their other prescriptions here,” said Tubbs.
Our limited survey found Kmart had the highest prices most often. It charges $92.97 for the generic of Zoloft, an anti-depressant, that you can get at Sam’s Club for $16.12, a difference of almost $77.
Kmart’s pharmacist wasn’t allowed to talk with us, except to say Kmart does offer a discount card for $10.
But for customers like Jeff, who is now getting emergency assistance to buy his medicine, the range of prices seems misleading.
“Is it unethical?” asks Tubbs. “I mean, I guess it’s retail. You know you can go anywhere you want and ask for a price on something.”
Shopping around is now saving Jeff big. He was paying $307 when he got all of his prescriptions at one place. We called around and found some better deals. We told him he could get all of his prescriptions for $194.12, a savings of $113.29.
“Oh, my gosh,” said Jeff. “That’s crazy!”
And that’s just for one month. Over a year’s time, that adds up to $1,359.48.
“Maybe I can turn my air conditioning on once in a while this summer!” said Jeff.
Jeff is already finding out that you have to do your homework every few weeks because drug prices tend to fluctuate, but we have resources to help you below.
Download price survey results (pdf)
Online price-checking tools:
HealthTrans Drug Cost Lookup
Kansas Drug Card (click “Medication Pricing” button)
GoodRX.com (they also have a smartphone app)
Organizations offering financial support:
Medical Service Bureau
GraceMed (Prescription Assistance)