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Kmart Pharmacy Lowered Its Prices. Why Don't Others?

Lisa L. Gill

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Just a few months ago, Kmart ranked as the most expensive retailer of prescription drugs in a Consumer Reports analysis of pharmacy chains. For the five common generic meds our secret shoppers checked, a person paying entirely out of pocket would have spent $1,093. But today, those five drugs at a Kmart pharmacy cost just $535.

Kmart’s new total puts it squarely in the middle of our analysis,  more expensive than retailers such as Costco, Sam’s Club, and many independent pharmacies, but less expensive than national chains such as CVS, Walgreens, and RiteAid.

Kmart's ability to cut its costs so sharply and so quickly provides a glimpse into the sometimes bizarre way prescription drugs are priced in the U.S.—and illustrates why it often pays for you to shop around for your meds. In fact, you may find that you can sometimes actually save money by not using your insurance.

Kmart's 'Everyday Low Pricing'

Until last year, Kmart Pharmacy offered a discount generic drug program. After paying a few dollars to join, you could get a 30-day supply of dozens of common meds for $5 or $10 and a 90-day supply for $10 or $30.

But by last December, the company shifted to a new approach, simply lowering the retail price across the board on more than 500 prescription meds, said a Kmart spokesman, Larry Costello. CR's secret shoppers found, for example, that a 30-day supply of generic Lipitor dropped from $242 to $35, and a month’s supply of generic Plavix went from $184 to $35.

Costello said the new pricing would help the increasing number of people enrolled in high-deductible health plans, which often don't cover prescription drugs until a person spends at least $1,300 toward their deductible, and those on Medicare who fall into the dreaded "donut hole," a gap in coverage that occurs after their total drug costs for a year reach $3,750. 

Even with the lower prices, Costello says pharmacists are instructed to help find less expensive alternatives or discounts for people who need extra help.

The move to an “everyday low price” model for Kmart Pharmacy may have also been related to a whistle-blower lawsuit brought on by a former Kmart pharmacist that alleged Kmart overbilled the federal programs Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare for certain medications compared with what it charged cash-paying patients who paid less when using its discount generic drug program. Kmart settled for $32.3 million with the U.S. government in December 2017. (The whistle-blower received $9.3 million.)  

Costello says Kmart's everyday low pricing model was implemented to make prices clearer to consumers. "We cannot speak for pricing models of other pharmacies," he said. "We have tried to make ours as transparent as possible."

Rx Pricing Beyond Kmart

Such everyday low pricing is how stores like Costco and the online drugstore Healthwarehouse.com have approached pricing in recent years. Both retailers have consistently come in as the least expensive places to purchase medications without insurance in current and earlier CR secret shopper surveys.

In contrast, CVS and RiteAid, which have been among the most expensive retailers for prescription drugs in CR investigations, continue to set high retail prices.

But that approach harms consumers who have to pay cash for their meds, says Adam Fein, Ph.D., president of Pembroke Consulting, a firm that tracks drug prices and pharmacies. “The pharmacy industry persists with an unfortunate ‘soak the poor’ pricing strategy for cash-pay prescriptions," he says.

And the harm is magnified as more people find themselves in high- deductible insurance plans, which he says “shift 100 percent of the prescription cost to the patient until the deductible is met.”

Meanwhile, Fein says that "most retail pharmacies continue to overcharge cash paying customers." 

To combat that problem, consumers should approach buying prescription drugs like they do other purchases, shopping around for better deals and cheaper pharmacies.

“It's leading to the consumerization of the pharmacy industry,” Fein says.

What Shoppers Found

CR shoppers can testify that shopping around for prescription drugs can indeed save you money. But it can also be confusing, unpredictable, and potentially expensive.

To find out whether a shopper would be charged the "cash" or retail price or be offered discounts, we sent shoppers to stores near our Yonkers, N.Y., headquarters earlier this year to actually fill several prescriptions for 30 tablets of 10mg of generic Lipitor (atorvastatin).

At one CVS store, our shopper was charged the full retail price of $135—and no discount was offered. But at another nearby CVS, the pharmacist took out a smartphone, checked GoodRx.com—a website that offers discounts on prescription drugs—and downloaded a coupon that dropped the price to $49.

At Walgreens, pharmacists in two locations looked up discounts for shoppers, getting the quoted retail price of $151 down to $37 at one store, while a second shopper paid $23 after a pharmacist there checked several discounts before landing on a low-cost discount card.

And at two nearby Rite Aid stores, one pharmacist charged the shopper $127 after a $20 discount, while the pharmacist at the second used a combination of discounts to get the price all the way down to $18.  

A Rite Aid spokesperson said the company couldn’t explain the different experiences our shoppers had without talking with the staff at both locations. And the company would not comment on whether the chain could simply lower its cash prices.

A CVS spokesman, Michael DeAngelis, told us that it recently introduced new tools for pharmacists to help consumers with CVS/Caremark coverage get the lowest possible prescription prices, such as flagging consumers who could benefit from 90-day prescriptions or lower-cost generic alternatives, and alerting pharmacists if there is a lower-cost alternative. Such cost-saving measures will be rolled out to the public throughout the year.  

Which Pharmacies Have the Best Rx Prices?

To find out, Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers called more than 150 drugstores across the U.S.—representing dozens of chain pharmacies, supermarket drugstores, and independent pharmacies—to compare prices for five commonly prescribed generic drugs. They included the diabetes drug pioglitazone (generic Actos, 30 mg); the painkiller celecoxib (generic Celebrex, 200 mg); the antidepressant duloxetine (generic Cymbalta, 20 mg); the cholesterol medication atorvastatin (generic Lipitor, 20 mg); and clopidogrel (generic Plavix, 75 mg), a blood thinner. The chart shows average discounted retail prices that pharmacies quoted for a one-month supply. (All prices are rounded to the nearest dollar.)

[1] Nonmember prices.

[2] Prices in parentheses are the ranges across sampled stores. Total price reflects the averages of the combined prices for the five drugs at individual independent pharmacies.

[3] Prices in parentheses are the ranges of the averages across sampled stores, including Albertsons, Food Lion, Giant Eagle, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Kroger, Publix, and others. Total price reflects averages of the combined prices for the five drugs at individual grocery store pharmacies.

Which Pharmacies Have the Best Rx Prices?

To find out, Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers called more than 150 drugstores across the U.S. to compare prices for five commonly prescribed generic drugs. They were the diabetes drug pioglitazone (generic Actos, 30 mg); the painkiller celecoxib (generic Celebrex, 200 mg); the antidepressant duloxetine (generic Cymbalta, 20 mg); the cholesterol medication atorvastatin (generic Lipitor, 20 mg); and clopidogrel (generic Plavix, 75 mg), a blood thinner. The chart shows average discounted retail prices that pharmacies quoted for a one-month supply. (All prices are rounded to the nearest dollar.)

[1] Nonmember prices.

[2] Prices in parentheses are the ranges across sampled stores. Total price reflects the averages of the combined prices for the five drugs at individual independent pharmacies.

[3] Prices in parentheses are the ranges of the averages across sampled stores, including Albertsons, Food Lion, Giant Eagle, H-E-B, Hy-Vee, Kroger, and Publix. Total price reflects averages of the combined prices for the five drugs at individual grocery-store pharmacies.

How to Save

Our analysis suggests that it may be cheaper not to use your insurance and instead shop around for a better price, especially if you fall into one of these three categories:

If none of those apply to you and you’re still looking to save, consider asking your doctor for a 90-day prescription. Doing so can save on one or two copays. And be sure you’re taking a generic whenever possible, because that could save you up to 85 percent off the branded drug’s price. 

 



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Retailer Price Total Price

Pioglitazone
(Actos)
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)

HealthWarehouse.com $12 $22 $13 $10 $10 $66
Costco [1] $16 $26 $35 $13 $16 $105
Independents [2] $19
($10-$493)
$34
($11-$295)
$31
($20-$267)
$15
($8-$197)
$15
($8-$260)
$107
($69-$1,351)
Sam's Club [1] $20 $38 $31 $20 $45 $153
Walmart $132 $203 $123 $30 $30 $518
Kmart $160 $185 $120 $35 $35 $535
Grocery Stores [3] $113
($10-$349)
$189
($46-$250)
$170
($13-$223)
$32
($11-$71)
$36
($7-$224)
$565
($88-$1,117)
Walgreens $167 $204 $251 $65 $65 $752
Rite Aid $255 $194 $170 $128 $119 $866
CVS/Target $270 $187 $195 $135 $141 $928
Retailer Price Total Price
Health-
Ware-
house.com
Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$12 $66
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$22
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$13
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$10
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$10
Costco [1] Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$16 $105
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$26
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$35
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$13
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$16
Independents [2] Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$19
($10-$493)
$107
($69-$1,351)
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$34
($11-$295)
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$31
($20-$267)
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$15
($8-$197)
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$15
($8-$260)
Sam's
Club [1]
Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$20 $153
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$38
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$31
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$20
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$45
Walmart Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$132 $518
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$203
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$123
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$30
Generic Plavix
75 mg (Clopidogrel)
$30
Kmart Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$160 $535
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$185
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$120
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$35
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$35
Grocery
Stores [3]
Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$113
($10-
$349)
$565
($88-$1,117)
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$189
($46-$250)
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$170
($13-$223)
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$32
($11-$71)
Generic Plavix
75 mg (Clopidogrel)
$36
($7-$224)
Walgreens Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$167 $752
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$204
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$251
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$65
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$65
Rite Aid Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$255 $866
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$194
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$170
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$128
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$119
CVS/
Target
Pioglitazone
(Actos)
$270 $928
Celecoxib
(Celebrex)
$187
Duloxetine
(Cymbalta)
$195
Atorvastatin
(Lipitor)
$135
Clopidogrel
(Plavix)
$141
  • You have a high deductible and you don’t expect to meet it for the year.
  • You're trying to avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D.
  • Your drug isn't covered well or at all by your insurance.

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