🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now
By The Numbers

Map: You may be paying way more for birth control

Daryl Paranada May 3, 2013

Do you shop around when it comes to paying for your prescription drugs? A new study from Consumer Reports shows that it pays off.

Americans spent on average $758 out of pocket for medication in 2012, according to the study. And when secret shoppers called more than 200 pharmacies around the United States to get prices for a month’s supply of five top-selling prescription drugs that recently became available at generic, they found whopping difference of $749 between the highest- and lowest-priced stores. Takeaway? Shop around.

When it comes to birth control, the same school of thought applies. “The Brian Lehrer Show” and Clear Health Costs recently partnered together to gather information about the cost of some common health care procedures and items, including birth control. They collected cash or self-pay prices for birth control pills in the New York area, and the data team at WNYC plotted them on this map. One popular birth control pill, Tri-Sprintec 28, had a price range between$9-$63 depending on where you shopped. Explore the map to see how the prices vary.

How can you save on your prescription drugs? Here are tips from Consumer Reports:

  • Whichever drugstore or pharmacy you use, choosing generics over brand-name drugs will save you money. Talk to your doctor, who may be able to prescribe lower-cost alternatives in the same class of drug. In addition, follow these tips.

  • Request the lowest price. Our analysis showed that shoppers didn’t always receive the lowest available price when they called the pharmacy. Sometimes they were given a discounted price, and other times they were quoted the list price. Be sure to explain—whether you have insurance or not—that you want the lowest possible price. Our shoppers found that student and senior discounts may also apply, but again, you have to ask.

  • Leave the city. Grocery-store pharmacies and independent drugstores sometimes charge higher prices in urban areas than in rural areas. For example, our shoppers found that for a 30-day supply of generic Actos, an independent pharmacy in the city of Raleigh, N.C., charged $203. A store in a rural area of the state sold it for $37.

  • Get a refill for 90 days, not 30 days. Most pharmacies offer discounts on a three-month supply.

  • Consider paying retail. At Costco, the drugstore websites, and a few independents, the retail prices were lower for certain drugs than many insurance copays.

Look for additional discounts. All chain and big-box drugstores offer discount generic-drug programs, with some selling hundreds of generic drugs for $4 a month or $10 for a three-month supply. Other programs require you to join to get the discount. (Restrictions apply and certain programs charge annual fees.)

Do you shop around for your birth control or other prescription drugs? Leave a comment and let us know.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.