HealthZette

The Best Price for Your Prescription

Apps can help with some expenses, but if you don't do your homework — beware

You can find almost anything on a cellphone app these days — but when it comes to prescription drug apps, some people are finding more headaches and wild goose chases than savings.

More than four billion prescriptions were filled last year through retail outlets, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation. Sixty-seven percent of all doctors visits resulted in a prescription drug being issued — and three out of five people are taking at least one pharmaceutical, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Controlling health conditions depends a great deal on adherence to a medication regimen. Lowering cost is a way to achieve this,” said one physician.

Popular drug apps are GoodRX, WeRX, LowestMed.com, Blink and OTC Plus with drug prices varying widely. Most large retail chain pharmacies, like Walgreen’s, CVS and Rite Aid, have their own apps as well. Like all products, a drugstore or pharmacy will charge less for some items, highlighting the low price in its marketing, and make up the difference on other items. Big chain stores like Target and Walmart also pull consumers to their stores for a low drug price, hoping they stay and spend more money in other departments. Since they offer such a wide range of consumer goods, the technique works.

While 60 percent of patients report they never discuss prescription costs with their doctor, more than 92,000 doctors across the country recommend GoodRx to their patients.

Knowing cost is often an excuse that keeps patients from being consistent with their medication, and that affects their health outcomes. Dr. Sharon Orrange, an associate professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles, California, encourages her patients to use GoodRx to find the best deals on prescriptions.

Related: E-Prescriptions are the Law in New York

“With rising out-of-pocket costs, I want to help my patients get the medications they need, at a price they can afford,” Orrange told LifeZette. “I recommend GoodRx to help my patients find cheaper cash pay prices, often with lower out-of-pocket costs, than they’ve been paying. As their physician, I see that controlling health conditions depends a great deal on adherence to a medication regimen. Lowering cost is a way to achieve this.”

When it works, it benefits both patient and business. But Sharon Anderson (not her real name) of Houston, Texas, found a lower drug price on WeRX, and then arrived at the pharmacy to be charged a different price. She has also been told the pharmacy temporarily had no supply of the drug.

“When you are trying to save money, and wind up driving all over creation, you’re not saving money at all,” she told LifeZette. “I’ve also saved once, but the next month the price rose up.”

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Best Consumer Advice for Drug Apps”]Use as a preliminary screening device.|Call the pharmacy to verify information.|Check any coupons you might be using.|Ask directly for the lowest price available.|Verify the pharmacy can fill the prescription before making the trip.[/lz_bulleted_list]

Her frustration is not unique. Consumer Reports compared programs and found differing prices from app to app, with the lowest price on one program often not showing on other apps. Another common complaint: Coupons from apps don’t work at the pharmacy.

After finding a good price on heart medication, Mary Wills of Atlanta, Georgia, found out that using the coupon would have actually cost her more. When her pharmacist attempted to apply a coupon from GoodRX, the original base price of the drug changed.

“I’m one of the folks who believes it’s all a racket,” she told LifeZette. “It feels like this should be fraud or something, this drug racket. Why should prices be so different? I’d like to be able to go to my local drugstore and feel I was paying the fair price.”

One drawback to using the apps, according to Dr. Celia Trotta, a psychiatrist with Psychiatry Health in Short Hills, New Jersey, is the increasing reliance on cyber-information sources, rather than doctors’ advice. Some apps allow search by condition and symptoms.

Related: Your Deadly Medicine Cabinet

“I think the major drawback is that people might use these apps as primary medical advice, which they should not be used for,” Trotta told LifeZette. “It is great for patients to have access to information regarding medical symptoms and drugs, with the caveat that people understand this information should be discussed with a private physician. The diagnosis and treatment of illnesses is complex and requires an in-depth understanding of the diseases and the medications available.”

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She also says the cost of medication can be confusing to the average consumer, considering insurance plays a key role in determining prices.

“Most pricing decisions are based on your insurance coverage and the pharmaceutical price. I personally have not seen huge variations in price based on specific pharmacies, but if a patient does use one of the apps and finds lower prices, then I am happy for them.”

Pat Barone, MCC is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.