MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- When Shannon Little started her own public relations firm a few years ago, she quickly learned about the costs of being her own boss.
"I had one medication. When I had insurance, it cost me $50 a month. When I lost my insurance, my neighborhood pharmacy wanted to charge me $600 a month."
Little says $600 was a price she absolutely couldn't pay.
"That's a good percentage of my income, especially starting out as a new business owner, to be able to afford just one of my medications," Little said.
That feeling of sticker shock at the pharmacy counter is becoming more common.
According to recent Consumer Reports data, an estimated 27 million Americans experienced a price hike for one or more of their medications.
In a nationally representative study, a third of the people surveyed said they paid at least $50 per month, extra for one or more prescriptions.
WREG ran a price check of nine commonly prescribed medications, plus the generic version of Tamiflu.
The NewsChannel 3 Investigators called pharmacies across the area and asked for the cash price of the medicine, what someone would pay without insurance.
Pharmacies contacted: (locations includes stores in Shelby County and Desoto County)
- Rite Aid
We found prices varied widely.
For example, a 30 day supply of Rosuvastatin (generic Crestor), cost $254.99 at the Rite Aid we called.
The same pills (10 mg dosage) were $19.68 at Walmart.
WREG called different pharmacy locations for each medication.
Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens typically the highest prices.
While Costco consistently had the lowest, followed by Walmart and Kroger.
Costco offers both non-member and member prices. We asked for the cash price for non-members.
"It can pay to shop around, ask pharmacists hey what`s the best deal that you can possibly give me," says Lisa Gill, a Prescription Drug Editor with Consumer Reports.
Gill says people with and without insurance can use that advice.
Late last year, Consumer Reports conducted a survey of prescription prices and also found pharmacies don't always make it easy for customers to get the best deal, especially those that have insurance.
"It was explained to us that there are gag clauses in place between the pharmacy and the pharmacy benefit manager. And it prohibits pharmacists from offering that lowest possible price unless the consumer asks."
Asking literally, for the "lowest possible price" Gill says is the magic phrase.
"That seems to unlock pharmacists ability to actually give you the lower price," Gill explained.
Other ways to save on prescriptions
- Ask your doctor if you really need the drug
Experts say just having a conversation could make a difference.
- Check for in-store discounts
During a couple of our phone calls with Walgreens, associates told us about the program unsolicited.
For example, using it for one of the medicines on our list, Atorvastatin (generic Lipitor) would take the price from $150.99 to $4.99 with a $20 membership, according to the store associate we spoke with.
- Look for online coupons
WREG priced several of the drugs on our list at GoodRx and found them to be significantly cheaper with a coupon from the site.
Clopidogrel (generic Plavix) cost $240.99 at the CVS we called, but using a GoodRx coupon drops it to roughly $22. It's important to note those prices are estimates and customers must be sure the pharmacy accepts the coupon. Be prepared for a price difference in some cases. Plug in your pharmacy location by zip code.
Blink Health is another option for savings.
- Get 90 day supply
- Look for medication plans and discounts through non-profits
WREG found an even cheaper solution right here in Memphis at the Good Shepherd Pharmacy.
Located inside the Hickory Ridge Mall, Good Shepherd is a non-profit membership pharmacy.
Founder and CEO Phil Baker told NewsChannel 3, "The 150 most commonly prescribed generic medications are actually free through our pharmacy because they cost pennies per pill."
While most Good Shepherd clients are uninsured, anyone can join and the pharmacy doesn't accept insurance, even if customers have it.
Baker says the process starts with a review of medications, which includes a free price check, and unlike other pharmacies, they like talking money.
"We`ve got several missions, but one is to expose the markup on drugs, and so we want to show what they really cost."
Baker ran WREG's medication list and six of them were on Good Shepherd's free list.
Even that costly generic Crestor only cost $4.
Baker explained, "The markup is so much higher than people realize it`s sometimes 2,000 percent."
Little found the Good Shepherd Pharmacy.
She said, "It changed my life."
After being a satisfied customer, Little turned the pharmacy into a client and offered her PR services for free after Good Shepherd wiped away that pricey prescription.
She said, "That $600 medication, cost me zero dollars at Good Shepherd Pharmacy. So it`s cheaper with Good Shepherd than it was when I had insurance!"
Cheaper to not use insurance?
Little's story is becoming more common. Baker and Gill told WREG many consumers find themselves in situations where it's cheaper to pay cash, combined with a discount plan or coupon, instead of using their insurance.
Gill explained, "Turns out that a lot of people have what are known as high deductible insurance plans and so they may be forced to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket before their insurance actually kicks in."
She added, "Paying out of pocket actually sometimes can be cheaper than using your insurance."
"Insurance doesn’t pay for what you would expect it to. Co-pays are higher than you would expect," said Baker.
He also added, "That’s the fastest growing category, what we call the under-insured... if you have a $5,000 deductible, very few people spend $5,000 a year on medications, and so effectively, you have no insurance. But unfortunately, because you do have insurance, it disqualifies you for all the assistance programs because you’re insured."
To reach Good Shepherd call (877) 521-6337.
Here's WREG's full prescription price list.