Employers do all they can to keep their employees' health insurance and health care outlays to a minimum. And while most of the effort is focused on the upfront cost of insurance, copays and deductibles, employers are now trying to help their employees control the very costs they actually have the most control over - and one of those areas is prescription medication.
Helping employees become wise consumers of health services may also reduce overall insurance costs, as well as help employees conserve more of their own funds if they have high copays and deductibles. The cost of drugs can vary greatly between pharmacies. And while your employees may have low copays for some drugs, if they go to the most expensive option when the insurance is covering the tab, it basically adds to the cost drivers for your insurance plan.
Here's how significant the price swings can be. Consumer Reports magazine recently surveyed pharmacies to price out a basket of five popular generic prescription drugs. Here is what they paid:
Various independents: $107
Sam's Club: $153
Grocery stores: $565
Rite Aid: $866
It pays to shop around from store to store and ask for discounts. "A Rite Aid store near our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., was able to get the price of atorvastatin, the generic version of Lipitor, down to just $18 from $300 through a combination of in-store and external discount programs," the report states. "But at another Rite Aid, we were told the cost could only be lowered to $127."
Consumer Reports recommends that employees:
Use online discounts. There are a number of websites that can provide you with discount coupons or vouchers for drugs, including: GoodRx, Blink Health, and WeRx.org. On these sites you enter the name of the drug, dosage and quantity and where you live, and it will provide coupons or vouchers and identify which pharmacies you can use them at.
Expand your shopping horizons. As you can see on the list above, prices vary tremendously. And combining shopping around with a good plan for using coupons , your employees can save themselves and your health plan significant amounts of money. Employees should also check out their local warehouse discount store, as both Costco's and Sam's Club's pharmacies were also quite reasonable. Not to be outdone, neighborhood pharmacies and grocery store pharmacies were also much cheaper than the large regional drugstore chains. "The absolute lowest prices we found in each city we called were almost always at these kinds of stores," Consumer Reports wrote.
Ask pharmacies if they will honor online coupons. Pharmacies will almost always honor them, Consumer Reports found. But the magazine's mystery shoppers had to be persistent in getting the pharmacies to use them, since they often run prescriptions through insurance automatically, even when paying the retail cash price and using discount coupons would cost less.
Consumer Reports recommends that once someone settles on a pharmacy that consistently gives them good deals on pharmaceuticals; they should fill all of their prescriptions there. That way, it's easier for them to spot "potentially dangerous interactions and other safety concerns."
If employees notice their pharmacy bills start rising noticeably, it may be time for them to start shopping around again. Reviewing costs regularly will help to identify whether prescription costs are starting to creep up.
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