NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Shopping for Drugs Saves Money

June 24, 2003

As Congress and many state legislatures debate ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs, a new study from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) shows that patients can save more than 90 percent on some of the most common drug therapies by becoming smarter, more aggressive shoppers.

The study notes the rise of the Internet has provided consumers with an invaluable cost containment tool. Consumers can find a range of prices from several Internet pharmacies, both for brand medications and generics. They can also learn about state government and private programs that assist seniors and low-income patients, as well as discount programs arranged by drug companies.

According to the study, smart shopping can save a lot. For example:

  • The price of 100 (50mg) doses of the cardiovascular drug Tenormin ranged from $121.90 at to $100.77 if purchased from AARP -- a savings of about 17 percent.
  • If patients switched to Atenolol, a common generic alternative, they could save at least 75 percent more.
  • The price of 100 (50mg) does of Atenolol ranged from $25.33 at to $9.60 at
  • Patients can lower their costs another 30 percent (from $9.60 to $6.75) by buying larger pills (100mg) and splitting them in half.
  • In total, the potential savings is 94 percent ($121.90 reduced to $6.75).

These types of savings are common, as drug prices vary considerably from pharmacy to pharmacy. Additionally, many medications cost the same, regardless of the size (dose) of the pill. Patients can save anywhere between 30 to 50 percent by purchasing double the dosage and splitting pills in half. Pharmacies will do it for patients, or they can buy cheap pill splitters.

Source: Devon M. Herrick (NCPA research manager), "Shopping for Drugs," Policy Report No. 262, June 2003, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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