Costco Pharmacy: Save on Prescription Drug Costs

rxbottleWhile standing in line at the Costco pharmacy, I found myself in a discussion with another Costco member who apparently saves over a thousand dollars a year on her meds by buying them there instead of her neighborhood CVS. (I also got an earful about the Medicare Part D “donut hole“.) I’m fortunate enough that I am currently not on any prescription medications, but OECD health statistics have Americans spending $1,000 a year per capita on pharmaceuticals. A similar survey by Consumer Reports arrived at $768 in average out-of-pocket costs per person.

Here are some things you may or may not know about the Costco Pharmacy:

  • Costco posts their drug price list online for everyone to see. No other pharmacy chain does this. Gee, I wonder why?
  • You don’t need a Costco membership to buy things from the pharmacy. You can simply tell the front door greeter/checker your prescription that you are going to the pharmacy.
  • Costco has their own “drug discount card”, called the Costco Member Prescription Program (CMPP), which is for people who have no prescription drug insurance or whose insurance does not cover all of their prescription medication. This is for Costco members only. Since you never know what drug will be covered or not, everyone should enroll and save 5% to 40% if/when you ever need it. You must fill out an enrollment form and return it to your Costco pharmacist.
  • Costco sells pet medication. The hardest part may be getting your vet to write you a prescription, since many vets fill their own orders as a significant part of their income. The CMPP above also applies to pet meds.

In 2013, Consumer Reports found Costco Pharmacy to offer the lowest prices overall when they compared a basket of popular generic drugs like Lipitor and Singulair. Given the “generic” terminology, I was surprised to learn how much prices can still vary.

Our secret shoppers called more than 200 pharmacies throughout the U.S. to get prices on a month’s supply of five blockbuster drugs that have recently become available as generics: Actos (pioglitazone), for diabetes; Lexapro (escitalopram), an antidepressant; Lipitor (atorvastatin), for high cholesterol; Plavix (clopidogrel), a blood thinner; and Singulair (montelukast), for asthma. The result? A whopping difference of $749, or 447 percent, between the highest- and lowest-priced stores.

Costco was the least expensive overall, and you don’t need to be a member to use its pharmacy. A few independent pharmacies came in even cheaper, though their prices varied widely, as did grocery-store pharmacies. The online retailers Healthwarehouse.com and FamilyMeds.com also had very low prices. On the other end of the spectrum, CVS, Rite Aid, and Target had the highest retail prices.

cr_costcopharm

The basic takeaway appears to be that if any your drug costs are not nearly completely covered by insurance, you should do a price comparison with Costco pharmacy (you can also order meds online using their home delivery option if you don’t have a warehouse nearby). The cost differential can be very significant, especially over time. Adding up your annual savings may convince you to forgo the convenience of that 24/7 drive-thru down the road.

Even if you have prescription insurance, it might still be cheaper to get a 90-day supply from Costco as opposed to paying three co-pays for three 30-day refills. (Watch out if you have Part D though, as paying cash may mean it doesn’t count towards your deductible and thus won’t help you get out of that aforementioned donut hole.)

Comments

  1. margaret says:

    I have lost track of how to find drug cost on line at Costco. Could you please advise. I have consulted the drug directory but cannot find the route to their pricing on line. Thanks for all your osts and help.

    • Just click on the name of the drug when at the drug directory. Here’s a quick copy and paste job for omeprazole:

      Name Mfr. 30 capsules 60 capsules 90 capsules
      OMEPRAZOLE DR 10 MG CAPSULE GLN $12.75 $19.40 $25.79

      Name Mfr. 30 capsules 60 capsules 90 capsules
      PRILOSEC DR 20 MG CAPSULE AST $242.05 $480.34 $717.90
      Generic Alternative:
      OMEPRAZOLE DR 20 MG CAPSULE
      APO
      $15.32
      $17.14
      $23.71

      Name Mfr. 30 capsules 50 capsules 100 capsules
      Generic Alternative:
      OMEPRAZOLE DR 40 MG CAPSULE
      APO
      $17.44
      $22.09
      $32.50

  2. Costco also has a mail order option for pharmaceuticals that includes free shipping through the USPS. Not sure if you need to be a member or not, but this could be pretty convenient for someone with a recurring need for a prescription who isn’t that close to a warehouse.

  3. Great information, as well as additional info, Andy.

    Is there an easy way to find what the generic equivalent cost is online? I looked through the Costco directory but the generic equivalent price clearly wasn’t reflected in their pricing guide, or cross-referenced. For the one drug I looked at, I know Walmart’s price is actually lower on the non-generic prescription (this particular drug went generic in the past 18 months, so potentially Costco’s info just isn’t updated yet).

  4. I don’t normally post but have to share this money-saving resource. Have you tried GoodRx? My wife and I moved to DRC (Congo) about a year ago and saved $982 on meds. It’s like Kayak except that it compares prescription prices in your area from various pharmacies. Seriously, it’s the best! My wife actually wrote a blog on how we did it http://fundyouradoption.tv/goodrx-prescriptions

  5. brankar says:

    Costco pet meds are way, way cheaper than local vets. And yes it took some effort.

    I’d get three months supply for our cat from costco’s online arm and it would cost me about 1/10th what two different vets wanted to charge.

  6. I use Humana’s online prescription drug plan and find it cheap and efficient.

  7. Costco website no longer seems to provide the pricing information. I clicked on the first drug from the page linked here and it had no pricing info

  8. I was a Costco pharmacy customer for about 6 years just to recently discover that (in my case) meds at Fred Meyer are much cheaper than Costco (across 5 different drugs). One of them was $17.00 vs. $0.90

    • Always good to shop around! Although I find it hard to believe 90 cents is the cash cost, maybe the special insurance-negotiated cost.

      • Probably but why Costco didn’t negotiate the same cost? I kept the same insurance. I was buying from them w/o even checking other pharmacies and assuming that they have the best price. I was so wrong. Always check.

    • I don’t see prices for that drug either. It could be that they don’t sell it, or you can always call them up over the phone and ask for a price quote.

      • Tommye J Winkley says:

        They do sell it. You just have to keep scrolling down the “L” list on one of their sites listed when you google Costco Pharmacy Costs.

  9. Wow, I am stunned that Costco posts their prices online.

    Is there a best way to compare drug prices including insurance? Do you have to have your doctor send the prescription to multiple pharmacies, then the pharmacies have to submit the claim through the insurance, and then you call each pharmacy to find out the final price?

  10. Great question but I’m not aware of any other way. Usually you have to go where they have the lowest full price and hope that you will pay as well the lowest price with your insurance.

  11. John C Barker says:

    So, can I use my COSTCO Pharmacy plan membership in place of paying $30.00 a month for a Part “D” drug plan? My 40mg simvastatin only costs $4-6 for 90 days at my COSTCO.
    Help! This could save me $360.00 a year for nothing.
    Thanks,

  12. Barbara Szubinska says:

    I like Costco; for example, they seem to have the cheapest flu shots, but I still shop around. How does Costco compare with the $4/$10 generics at Walmart?

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