It’s that time of year again, when the subway becomes a moving, underground Petri dish and every headache is just a warm-up for the Flu. If you’re uninsured, you’re probably resigned to the age-old combo of Emergen-C and chicken soup. And you lucky few, the insured, you probably think you’re sitting pretty. (A co-pay’s a co-pay, right?) Well… here’s the dirty little secret of the prescription-filling world: Drugs can cost less without insurance. You could be paying that rock-steady $25 co-pay all for a scrip that’s $4-a-month without your fancy PPO. We were recently hit with this startling fact and wondered just how much pill prices can vary without the insurance card.
We feigned random ailments, illnesses and pains and set forth on an out-of-pocket price-check of Duane Reade, CVS, Costco, ShopRite and a mom and pop for good measure (Carl’s Prescriptions at Wyckoff and Myrtle Aves.). All prices are for generics, unless otherwise noted.
Allegra (Fexofenadine): 60mg, 60 pills (allergy relief )
Carl Rx: $45-$50
Amoxicillin: 500 mg, 30 pills (antibiotic, doses vary)
ShopRite: Free for 14-day supply
Carl Rx: $14.95
Yasmin (drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol): 28 pills (birth control)
Carl Rx: $39.95
Xanax (Alprazolam): 0.5mg, 50 pills (anti-anxiety)
Carl Rx: $41.95 (brand-name)
Our winners: Costco and ShopRite, with an honorable mention for mom and pops.
Costco: You don’t have to be a member of the mega-store to use its pharmacy, which fared consistently well in our small study. It is, however, a schlep—with only one BK location (976 Third Ave. at 39th St.). Before you invest the subway fare and time, look the prices up online. ShopRite didn’t stand-out for all prescriptions, but offered a free one-time antibiotic knockout and boasts 375 generics at a $9.99 per-three-month steal. So, definitely worth your time.
Duane Reade scores major points for the late hours (24-hour locations keep the pharmacy open ’til 10). But they lose points for price—they negotiate with the drug companies at the city-level. The national CVS generally charges 10 to 15 percent less, but still was unexceptional. If you’re the city-pride type, you might find a DR that knocks 10 percent off for out-of-pocket customers (at the discretion of each branch’s management).
Mom and pops are surprise heavy-hitters. With lower overhead and a higher tendency to bargain with cash customers (sometimes cutting the bill by 40 percent), even independents in ritzy Park Slope could beat or at least tie the big guys. Still, not every dispensary will have your needed controlled substance, generics or exotic pills on hand. You may end up waiting days for the suppliers to deliver.
The takeaway: Drug prices vary, and in unexpected ways. Whether you’re insured or not, shop around before you pop the pills.