These Are Without a Doubt the Worst Ways the Pharmacy Tries to Rip You Off

The prognosis for medications in 2019 is not good. The Senate reported the prices of brand-name drugs are increasing at a much faster rate than inflation, especially for seniors’ commonly used meds. These are all the ways your drugstore may rip you off — and three ways to take action. Many pharmacists are sworn to secrecy about one shady practice (page 9).

1. Name-brand medications

medication pack
Pharmacies sell lots of generic drugs, but you may not know it. | iStock.com
  • C4 in 10 people said their doctors sometimes or never recommend generics over brand-name drugs.

You’re falling for a name and paying the price, details Consumer Reports. But with generic prescriptions on the rise, you should check whether your name-brand prescription has a generic equal that’s just as effective.

Next: When having health insurance becomes a pricey problem

2. Ignoring the competition

money thrown in garbage
Look to a cheaper competitor for the same quality product. | Paramount Pictures
  • We’re used to buying meds with insurance, so pharmacies keep charging the same copay while profiting on cheaper products.

Drug prices are not regulated. As patents expire, prices drop as competitors enter the scene. Medications that used to cost pharmacies $400 for 100 pills now could cost $10. Selling them to you is a different story.

Next: You may want to visit this superstore giant after all.

3. Disregarding Walmart

Walmart shopping cart
Walmart has some of the cheapest drug prices around. | iStock.com/snyferok
  • Walmart tends to do what other drugstores won’t; it marks up its prescriptions less.

Medication costs are the same for all pharmacies. But Walmart is often the best deal. For example, the lowest retail price advertised on GoodRx for 30 500 mg capsules of Amoxicillin is $4, listed at Walmart. (Costco is another outlet known for seriously cheap drugs.)

Next: Beware herbal remedies.

4. Unregulated herbal remedies

Herbal medicine capsules
Herbal medicine capsules | iStock.com/nanantachoke
  • The FDA does not regulate these herbs as food or drugs.
  • Many pharmacists are uninformed about the risks associated when combining them with regular prescriptions.

With an increased interest in natural and herbal remedies, many pharmacies are making these products available right on the counter, hoping for an impulse buy. But the FDA isn’t responsible for monitoring these dietary supplements until they hit the counter.

Plus, some herbal remedies respond badly to the ingredients found in your drugs. Although pharmacists can advise on herbal remedies, they’re likely aren’t able to fully consider potentially harmful side effects.

Next: Your doctor isn’t all-knowing.

5. Uneducated doctors

man visits doctor
Doctors who prescribe opioids might be required to take additional training. | iStock.com
  • Uninformed doctors generated between $158 billion and $226 billion of wasteful spending in 2011, reported Health Affairs.

As consumers, we often accept our doctors’ advice without question, which affects our health and bank accounts. In 2012, the FDA required medicine manufacturers to offer educational courses about long-acting opioid drugs (like methadone and oxycodone) to help doctors better prescribe them. However, the three-hour online training was not mandatory. Bloomberg reports only 38,000 of the 320,000 active opioid prescribers took the class.

Next: Do you really need all those pills?

6. Unnecessary medication

Sick man with thermometer in mouth
Most colds go away without medication. | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd
  • At least 30% of antibiotic prescriptions written in outpatient settings are unnecessary.
  • Almost 50% of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory conditions are excessive, reports a CDC study.

What many don’t know is that doctors prescribe drugs more freely than ever. We’ve all walked into the doctor’s office convinced we’re on our death bed and need antibiotics. Sometimes it’s easier — and quicker — for doctors to prescribe a drug to patients than explain why it’s not needed.

Next: Your common medications cost a fortune.

7. Making the most common drugs the most expensive

image of pills from Generation RX Documentary
Most will pay a higher bill rather than leave without their drugs. | Common Radius Films
  • 81% of people will pay for a prescription, regardless of price.

Manufacturers know most people won’t walk out of the store without their drugs, so they keep raising prices. As prescriptions for asthma, high blood pressure, and irregular heart rhythm, for example, continue to see price increases, people keep paying the bills instead of considering options.

Next: The cost of “clawbacks”

8. Agreeing to ‘clawbacks’

man pouring coins from piggy bank
Benefits managers take a few extra dollars on prescriptions. | iStock.com/dolgachov
  • Benefits managers reap substantial monetary benefits at your expense using a term known as “clawbacks,” reports Bloomberg.
  • People have caught on and filed lawsuits against companies like Humana and United Health Group.

Benefits managers negotiate manufacturer drug prices for pharmacies. They seem valuable as they can pin companies against each other to score the lowest prices. But they actually profit off your prescriptions.

For example, you pay a reasonable $10 copay previously agreed upon by the benefits manager and your insurance. The pharmacy gets reimbursed for the price of the drug, say $2, and makes a profit of maybe $4. Then, the benefits manager “claws back” the remaining $4 with the patient never knowing there was a cheaper price.

Next: Your pharmacist can never let you in on this secret.

9. Failing to disclose lower prices

pharmacist holding red clipboard
This pharmacist’s lips are sealed. | iStock.com
  • Most pharmacists know about “clawbacks,” but they are bound by contracts with the benefits manager to stay silent.

This is true even in cases where paying out of pocket would be less than a designated copay. In turn, consumers continue to buy prescription coverage when they may not need it. Fortunately, this isn’t unnoticed. In addition to the lawsuits against Humana and United, states are stepping in.

A Louisiana Senate bill would allow pharmacists to educate customers on the cheapest price for drugs. In 2015, an Arkansas law banned managers and pharmacies from overcharging customers more than the pharmacy would be paid. This prompted a lawsuit from the benefits managers.

Next: No insurance?

10. Paying out of pocket

Business man showing his empty pockets
This man has empty pockets after filling his prescription. | iStock.com/jinga80
  • If a pharmacy has many patients with high coverage, it focuses on pay-out-of-pocket customers, such as those on Medicare and the working poor, to make a profit.

Again, because drugs prices aren’t regulated, pharmacies can choose their rates. In these instances, people who must pay out of pocket for drugs will pay more than normal. Some Americans have no other options but inquire about prices before you pay out of pocket.

Next: Don’t fall for those cheesy drug commercials on TV.

11. Using meaningless drugs

Pill bottle | iStock.com
  • Commonly prescribed drugs, such as those claiming to cure low testosterone, actually do more harm than good.

Commercials may convince you of a prescription’s abilities, but it may also increase your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Of course, some bacterial infections do require antibiotics — and we don’t recommend ignoring medical input about a serious illness — but some things can be managed other ways. Chat with your doctor about what’s really needed before accepting the prescription slip.

Next: One of three ways to help you save on prescription drugs

Now that you’re aware of the ways you may be ripped off at the pharmacy, it’s time to do something about it. Here are three ways you can save on prescription drug prices:

1. Bargain shop

Walmart low price price sign
Just like you’d shop around for low prices with other items | Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Independent pharmacies often offer extremely low drug prices that are much cheaper than larger chain retailers.
  • The cost at one drugstore is not always true across town. When prices are too high at one store, check out area retailers for a better price.

Additionally, metropolitan pharmacies are often costlier than those located in rural or suburban areas. So a quick drive beyond the city limits may be worth it.

Next: Consider buying your medications online.

Shop online

woman cheering at computer
Prescription prices often are lower online. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem
  • Use websites like GoodRx to compare prices before heading to the pharmacy. Or just order prescribed medications online.

As with most things these days, shopping online can save you precious time and money. Just be careful of scams and rogue sites that aren’t reputable sellers. Look for a logo with the initials VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) to ensure credibility.

Next: The questions you should always ask

Ask more questions

Patient talking with doctor
Curiosity does not kill the cat in this case, but it might save you money. | iStock.com
  • Ask up front about the price, insurance coverage, and whether the medications are absolutely necessary.

The more you know the less you’ll pay. Considering what we know about overprescribing and generic options, you should question your doctor about medication. Being proactive will ensure a doctor does the research on what is best for you and your situation. You want to be healthy, and you want to have money — and it’s not too much to ask for both.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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