I get it, asking you to change your routine for how you go to the doctor or get a prescription can be annoying. Whether you’re sick, not feeling well or the trip to the pharmacy is just one more errand on your growing to-do list, sometimes it can be worth the extra price just to keep doing things the same way you always have. My family usually gets our prescriptions from Costco or Wal-Mart because typically they are less expensive. There have been times though, that the convenience of the drive though at Walgreens or CVS has swayed us. When we are in a hurry and don’t want to lug kids in and out of the car, wait in line, etc., we may forgo the savings. For the most part however, we have been mindful of saving money when we could on our medications. Or so I thought.
In February, my entire family came down with flu symptoms. Fortunately, my wife’s employer provides Teladoc (a healthcare benefit) to their employees and families at no cost, so we had our phone appointments from the comfort of our home and in less than an hour. Huge win for a sick family for convenience and savings – we saved at least $150 each on not having the office visit! I was feeling well enough to go pick up the prescriptions, so off I went to Wal-Mart. As I was going through the checkout, my wife’s prescription was up first. She is on her employer’s healthcare plan, while I have the kids on mine. Her copay for the antiviral medication was $15. Great, considering the cash price was listed at $137! Next up were my daughters. My youngest daughter’s medication rang up for $124 and the older one (that needed two bottles) was $248. I have a $7,000 deductible and prescriptions are my responsibility until I hit that mark, so that cost is all mine. I am fine with that because I think it is better to pay for what I use, rather than have a higher premium with a lower deductible. It also makes me think about cost more frequently.
I still had a little “sticker shock” though and had been hearing stories about cash prices for medications costing people less than actually running it through their insurance, so I asked the pharmacist to check the “cash price” for me. After a few minutes, I was informed that my insurance had discounted the price by $20 for my younger child and $40 for my older daughter. I was resigned to pay and the pharmacist went off to mix the medications. While I waited, I started thinking about why this medication cost so much more money than the $15 co-pay for my wife to the $248 for my oldest daughter. I checked out goodrx.com to see what price was reasonable. GoodRx listed a price of $46 and $92 for the different quantities I needed, compared to my insurance cost of $124 and $248. I know that using that coupon meant that I wouldn’t be running it through my insurance and it wouldn’t apply toward my deductible for the year. However for me, in that situation, it was worth the $234 that I saved. Now, the Pharmacist wasn’t very excited about applying that discount. He gave me a sob story about how the pharmacy’s business wasn’t doing well and they can’t advertise those discounts, which I understand. However, I was asking about price and he didn’t do anything to advance that conversation with me, so I didn’t feel badly that it took him an extra few minutes to re-run my medications. Also, they were making plenty on the 4 pack of toothbrushes that cost $9.
In summary, that single day we saved on 3 office visits at $150 each (total of $450) by using telemedicine instead of going to the clinic and $234 on the prescriptions. All it took was my phone and being willing to spend 10 minutes researching and asking questions for a total savings that day of $684. It doesn’t have to be a major medical situation for the savings to be significant. This was just a family with the flu. We got the care needed and at a much better price. The result was after a few days, our house was back to normal again. This would have been the same result even if we had spent the extra money at the clinic and went through the pharmacy drive through. It isn’t difficult, anyone can learn how, they just need to be shown the tools that are available and how to use them.