Sunday, August 02, 2015

CVS accused of overcharging customers with insurance... should you be asking if cash is cheaper?

This week in the news I heard about a suit against CVS for overcharging customers who had insurance.  From the gist of the article I read, customers with insurance overpaid based on copay, even while customers who paid cash got the same medication far cheaper.

There is a trend among health providers to do e-scripts only.  This means the pharmacist doesn't have to decipher the handwriting of your medical professional and should (hopefully!) decrease the chance of an error.  Once you tell them your preferred pharmacy, that's where all of your prescriptions will go from then on into the future.

Pharmacists support this because it makes their life easier, plus many believe it helps them provide better care to have prescriptions filled in one store.  That way, they would be more likely to catch drug interactions because you might have forgotten to tell your doctor about an rx you got from a different doctor you are treating with.

However, this also means if they automatically send your scripts to a particular pharmacy, you may not be getting the best price.  It is easier to shop around for prices when you have a piece of paper in your hand that can be filled at your convenience after you've checked prices. (There's an app for that).  I'm not sure your provider will want to sit there while you whip out your smart phone to check prices.

So what can you do?  

I suppose you could select another pharmacy.  But I will tell you this.  They may be doing the same thing.  I have gotten antibiotics at a pharmacy before and once it was just a few bucks (they charged me the cash price) and once it was the minimum copay my insurance charged ($10).  This pharmacy was not a CVS.  I am not going to name it, other than to say it was one of the well-known chains.

Really, once you get up to the window, you may feel awkward asking about price. I do! There's a line of people behind you, some looking sicker than others.  Heck, you probably aren't feeling all that great either or are in a hurry. 

But maybe you should be calling the pharmacy before you pick it up and ask what their cash price is.   If you have prescriptions filled regularly now, you might want to check cash prices before your next refill.  Make sure your medicine is not on a $4 Walmart list or otherwise cheaper at a grocery store pharmacy.

CNN Money's article included input from CVS's spokesman who said that it is your insurance provider who determines your copay.  Yes, they do.  However, you are not required to use your insurance to fill prescriptions just because you have it.  An honest company who puts customers' health first (hence ditching selling cigarettes in their stores) should know that wasted health care dollars are not good for one's health overall.  If cash prices are lower, they should NOT run it through your insurance so that they can collect more money from filling your prescription.  They should compare the prices and give you the lowest price available. Just my humble opinion as someone who has one pharmacy in her county... and guess which one it is?

Helpful links

Walmart's $4 list
Publix free medication list
Target $4 medications
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