Consumer Reports: Savings can be substantial with online pharmacies

Consumer Reports investigated a number of online pharmacies and found the savings can be substantial if you know where to shop.

If you get your prescription drugs mailed to you, you may be relying on drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens. But times have changed; these days the number of legitimate online pharmacies has grown, giving you plenty of low-cost options. Consumer Reports investigated a number of online pharmacies and found that the savings can be substantial if you know where to shop.

In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, 3 in 10 adults who need a prescription drug said they didn’t take it as directed in the past year because the cost was too high. And it’s not just the uninsured who are struggling, Consumer Reports says. Many people who are insured may have high deductibles to meet before any discounts start.

A savings solution might be found online. Big-name retailers such as Amazon and Costco offer discounted drugs, as do sites like GeniusRx, Honeybee Health, and others.

To see if the savings are real, CR went to work, comparing prices so you don’t have to. In general, it found that the prices online were low.

CR also found substantial savings if you order your medication for multiple months. For example, at Ro Pharmacy you can get a 30-day supply of generic Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medicine, for $9.90. A year’s supply? Just $19.80.

But there may be some drawbacks if you’re paying out of pocket for your medication. For one, that money won’t typically go toward your insurance deductible. Another drawback: You might not be able to find your exact prescription.

Several of the sites CR checked aren’t full-service pharmacies, so they might not carry insulin or brand-name drugs. They pretty much only offer low-cost generic drugs.

Another problem: They might not do as good a job as your local pharmacy in checking for dangerous drug interactions. The bottom line is that these sites might be able to help you save money. But if you take a lot of drugs or complex ones, sticking with a local pharmacy may be a better bet.

Before you try an online pharmacy, make sure the site can ship to you. CR found that four of the sites they checked ship to all 50 states.

Other ways to save

There are resources that can help with medication costs, starting with NeedyMeds.org, a nonprofit that finds people the lowest cost for their medication.

Let’s take for instance Lipitor, a common medication that treats high cholesterol. You type in the medication name and supply, let’s say for 30 days.

Put in your ZIP code and how far of a radius you want it to be.

Tom Stephens with the Better Business Bureau joins us to discuss how to smartly buy meds online.

Then a list of pharmacies that carry the drug will pop up, and most pharmacies only offer about a $30 difference from each other but when you’re talking about almost $400 for a 30-day supply it’s a lot, so, what can you do then?

First, talk with your local pharmacist.

Pharmacists are experts at finding low-cost, affordable options, and they likely want to help you.

Look for pharmacies that partner with community health centers or find a charitable pharmacy.

Some pharmacies are registered nonprofits often staffed by volunteer professionals.

Enroll in drug company “Patient Assistance Programs,” where if you can prove you earn less than a given amount, companies will send you medication free.

The biggest thing to remember is there are options, you might just have to do some research.

But before you do that research, the Better Business Bureau has some tips to buying medicine online.

The first thing to check before ordering medicine online is whether the pharmacy is licensed.

In the U.S., this is through your state board of pharmacy (or equivalent state agency).  The FDA maintains a database of these boards which you can consult:  https://www.fda.gov/drugs/besaferx-your-source-online-pharmacy-information/know-your-online-pharmacy

Here are other things you should check for:

  • The online pharmacy requires a valid prescription
  • There is a physical address and telephone number in your country
  • A licensed pharmacist is available to answer questions

In addition to missing any of the requirements above, here are some other red flags that should make you reconsider before ordering from an online pharmacy:

  • Deep discounts with prices that seem too good to be true
  • The website sends unsolicited spam emails offering cheap drugs·

If you have complaints or concerns about a site, you can report it to the FDA.