Prescription drugs: Saving thousands

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A local man got downright angry when he found out how wildly different the prices medications can be from one pharmacy to the next.

It's a morning ritual for George Turner and Judy Turner, of Spring, Texas. We're talking about taking their daily prescription medications. Not many people like it but George was not pleased when he found out how wildly different the prices for those medications can be from one pharmacy to the next.

"Why should the price for the very same drug be so very, very high at one place and be so much lower somewhere else, it doesn't make sense," George said.

It started when George Turner went to pick up his wife's prescription for Losartan, a blood pressure drug. For two years, the couple had been paying $35 for a 90-day supply at Life Drugs.

But recently, Judy Turner's doctor ordered the drug at a Walmart by mistake. George didn't give it a thought until he went to pick up the drug and pay for it.

"And when I walked into Walmart to get the prescription, the woman said, 'That will be $160.08,' and I said, 'You have to be kidding.' That's more than four times what we've been paying for that drug," George said.

What George Turner discovered is one of the secrets of the pharmaceutical drug industry: how the prices for the same drug can be different from one pharmacy to to the next. Why so much variation?

"There can be very significant price differences for the same drug," said David Wallace, clinical associate professor at The University of Houston's College of Pharmacy. "It really varies based on prices that they (the drug stores) have to pay their wholesalers, and where they get the medicine from. It also has to do with how much overhead they pay."

So in an effort to find the best prices Local 2 Investigates began calling different pharmacies.

We checked a total of five different well known pharmacies for their prices on five popular, widely prescribed, generic drugs.

The first drug is Actos, used to treat diabetes.

We asked for the out-of-pocket cost for the generic version of this drug, a 30-day supply. This is what we found.

  • Walgreens $281.99
  • Target $240.99
  • CVS $234.99
  • Walmart $139.62
  • Costco $15.69

Costco's price was more than $200 cheaper than many of those other pharmacies.

Next we checked the price for the generic version of Lipitor, which is used to treat high cholesterol.

  • Walgreens $147.99
  • Target $69.99
  • CVS $145.99
  • Walmart $30.00
  • Costco $15.59

We found more variations in prices for the generic version of Lexapro, an anti-depressant.

  • Walgreens $126.99
  • Target $121.99
  • CVS $119.00
  • Walmart $79.84
  • Costco $10.14

It was the same story for the blood thinner Plavix, once again the price for the generic version was all over the place.

  • Walgreens $161.29
  • Target $103.99
  • CVS $149.99
  • Walmart $30.00
  • Costco $13.25

Finally we checked the prices for the generic version of Singulair.

  • Walgreens $151.99
  • Target $145.99
  • CVS $132.99
  • Walmart $34.68
  • Costco $21.74

Add all of that up and the price you would pay for our market basket of all five drugs at Walgreens would be $870.25. The same five drugs at Costco would cost $76.41. That's a difference of $793.84 for a one-month supply.

The key to saving big at the drug store is clearly to shop around, call five to 10 different pharmacies in your area and check prices over the phone.

But whatever pharmacy you choose, doctors say you should make sure you buy all of your prescription drugs at the same store, so you will lessen the chances of a dangerous, prescription drug interaction.

We contacted officials at Walgreens for their take on what we found in this price study. Here is their statement:

"When choosing a pharmacy, we encourage patients to select one based on overall pricing and the services available. It's important for patients to use a single pharmacy so that pharmacists can monitor their medications and avoid potential drug interactions. Walgreens pharmacists provide trusted customer care and we are known for being available when and where our customers need us most.

"Our Prescriptions Savings Club offers discounts to individuals who do not have insurance or their insurance does not adequately cover the cost of medications. Below you will find our Prescription Savings Club prices for the medications you are comparing.   The annual fee of $20 for an individual or $35 for a family includes a guarantee that members will save at least that much money on their medications throughout the year, or the fee will be refunded."

Local 2 would like to thank the University of Houston College of Pharmacy for the help in gathering the information for this story.

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