Shopping for Drugs: 2007

Studies | Health

No. 293
Thursday, November 16, 2006
by Devon Herrick, Ph.D.


Bulk Buying

"Smart Shopping: Buy drugs in larger quantities."

Consumers can save the most on medications when they purchase in quantity.  About 85 percent of employer-sponsored health plans offer members medicine by mail order.63  Under these plans, a 90-day supply often costs the same as a 30-day to 60-day supply at a community pharmacy.  Generic drugs are especially subject to deep discounts.  In many cases, ordering quantities of 100 tablets costs only a few dollars more than ordering 30 tablets.64  Mail-order pharmacies are extremely useful to treat chronic diseases requiring the same medication month after month.  Although drugstore chains still sell the most drugs, accounting for 42 percent of the market, mail-order pharmacies are gaining ground and now command about 17 percent of retail sales.65 

Consumers without a mail-order option through their health plan can order drugs from an Internet mail-order pharmacy that serves the general public.  For example:66

  • At CVS.com, 30 Atenolol tablets costs $7.99.
  • The cost for 60 doses at HomeMed.com is $7.99.
  • At Costco.com, 100 Atenolol tablets costs $8.29.

Larger packages of OTC medications may also be cheaper:

  • At Drugstore.com, 20 Loratadine tablets (generic Claritin) cost $5.99. 
  • A 60-count box of the same brand sells for $11.89 and a 120-count box is only $14.99 at Drugstore.com.67 
  • At Sam's Club, a 300-count box sells for $15.84.68

Ordering a prescription by mail may not work for new prescriptions where treatment must begin immediately or for drugs taken occasionally, but many patients regularly taking a medication for a chronic ailment can save by using mail-order pharmacies.  Certain drugs, however, are not suitable for bulk sales due to the need for periodic monitoring and the potential for abuse.  In some cases physicians may be resistant to prescribing the equivalent of a three- or six-month supply.


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