For people who rely on multiple medications, the expenses accumulate. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, eight out of 10 adults say prescription medication costs are unreasonable. Three in 10 adults on four or more drugs report difficulty affording them and say they had skipped or reduced doses because of the cost.
With lower prices for certain generic drugs, online pharmacies present an alternative to traditional pharmacies.
In a 2022 investigation of five generic medications, Consumer Reports found that web apothecaries generally market generic drugs at a lower cost than the $12 copay that individuals with employer-sponsored insurance plans typically pay.
Researchers shopped for five common generic drugs online:
They compared the prices of these drugs at eight online vendors – Amazon.com/Pharmacy, Costco.com, CostPlusDrugs.com, GenuisRX.com, HealthWarehouse.com, HoneybeeHealth.com, Ro.Co/Pharmacy, and Scriptco.com – and found them to be less pricey overall.
Though some online pharmacies carry most drugs, the majority only have select offerings available. Costco, HealthWarehouse.com, and Amazon are full-service pharmacies offering the most prescription medications.
The others – CostPlusDrugs, GenuisRX, HoneybeeHealth, Ro.Co/Pharmacy, and Scriptco – are limited pharmacies that may not have every drug a person needs.
Why Are Online Pharmacies Less Expensive?
Online pharmacies keep their costs down in several ways.
- Most drugstores examined – six of the eight – do not accept insurance, eliminating charges for dispensing and expenses from insurers or intermediaries such as pharmacy benefits managers.
While this keeps the costs low, the prices of drugs might not go toward insurance deductibles, depending on the type of insurance.
- Amazon, Costco, and Scriptco charge membership fees to keep costs low. Even with paying a membership fee, some may find that the total prices are lower with these pharmacies. Others may already have memberships to Amazon or Costco.
- Large companies reduce expenses by purchasing in bulk.
Those who have difficulty leaving their residences may be drawn to e-pharmacies, as they can order prescriptions online and have them delivered directly to their homes without going to the brick-and-mortar pharmacy. Traditional pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS offer home delivery as well, however. People who prefer delivery should compare online pharmacies to their local options.
Though Amazon, GeniusRx, and Ro Pharmacy have free delivery, other sellers have delivery fees that can increase the overall expense. Expedited shipping is available when people need the medicine immediately, but also increases costs.
While delivery might benefit some, local pharmacies might be a better option for others. Individuals with medications that require refrigeration or those who require the drugs right away might need to use traditional drugstores.
Online apothecaries can also be limited in where they ship, so ensuring the service will ship to you is essential. Of the eight online pharmacies evaluated, only Costco.com and HealthWarehouse.com send medications to all states.
Consumer Reports concluded that online apothecaries are an excellent option for those who need common, generic medications and can get them all from a single online pharmacy.
However, they do not recommend ordering individual prescriptions from different pharmacies, as pharmacists should be made aware of any potential interactions drugs might have when taken together. Those with complex medical needs can benefit from using a walk-in pharmacy where they can have the pharmacist’s oversight.
Speak to your health care provider about your pharmacy options.