Best and worst stores to buy generic drugs

You can pay $17 for generic Lipitor or you can pay $150, depending on where you shop. Secret shoppers from Consumer Reports checked out 200 pharmacies.

Many name-brand drugs recently became available as generics when their patents expired . Familiar names like Lipitor and Singulair now have copycats on the market, driving prices down.

But the millions spent on research and development might make the sky-high prices of blockbuster drugs understandable. It's a different story for generic drugs. Manufacturers aren’t saddled with R&D expenses or attempting to create a market for new meds, Los Angeles Times explains:

Manufacturers are basically starting with the exorbitant prices that the branded guys charged and then setting their own prices at whatever level they think the market will bear.

Americans spent $758 on average out of pocket for medication in 2012.

So, Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers called over 200 pharmacies throughout the U.S. to get nonmember, nondiscounted prices on a month’s supply of generic versions of five blockbuster drugs: Actos for diabetes, antidepressant Lexapro, Lipitor for high cholesterol, blood thinner Plavix, and Singulair for asthma.

  • Costco was the least expensive overall.
  • A few independent pharmacies were even cheaper, but their prices varied widely, as did grocery-store pharmacies.
  • Online retailers and also had low prices.
  • Followed by Sam’s Club, Kmart, Walmart, and Walgreens.
  • CVS, Rite Aid, and Target had the highest retail prices.

All the drugs combined cost $749 more at CVS than at Costco. Lipitor, for example, was $17 at Costco and $150 at CVS.

"It really comes down to a store's business model,” says Consumer Reports editor Lisa Gill. “For example, big box stores tend to use their pharmacies as a way to get consumers through the door with the expectation that they'll buy other things.”

Some tips to remember:

  • Choosing generics saves money
  • Sometimes pharmacies in urban areas charge higher prices
  • Most offer discounts on three-month supplies
  • Sometimes retail prices are lower than insurance copays

[Consumer Reports via Reuters]

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