A trip to the drugstore isn't a casual expense for many Americans these days. A just-released survey of Consumer Reports' subscribers shows only 33 percent of drug purchases were covered by insurance for the most part, or in full. That's way down from the 65 percent coverage in 2002.
"Chain drugstores are still where the lion's share of drugs are purchased. But more and more people are actually going online to purchase their drugs. About 10,000 supermarkets in the U.S. are equipped with drug stores, and more and more people are finding those extraordinarily convenient," said Tod Marks from Consumer Reports.
With so many choices, are there ways to save on prescription drugs? Consumer Reports compared the cost of four common drugs at 13 different stores and Web sites. It turns out prices for Plavix, Levoxyl, Detrol, and Alendronate varied significantly.
"We found that there was a tremendous price fluctuation for the same drug, you know sometimes of $100 or more for a single prescription," said Marks.
Consumer Reports' price comparison for these four drugs shows Costco had the lowest prices overall. Web sites like AARP.org and Walgreens.com were also relatively inexpensive.
But don't count out independent drugstores.
"They've received high scores for many, many years -- from since we began our study of pharmacies," said Marks. "And we also found that many are competitive on price."
The bottom line is that it pays to shop around for the cheapest prescription by checking out prices online, by phone, or in person.
Consumer Reports says some other ways to save on prescriptions include enrolling in store discount programs like Kmart's Gold K program, or buying generics. They can often cost 20 to 50 percent less than their brand-name equivalents. Stores like Wal-Mart and Target sell a month's supply of hundreds of generic drugs for $4 a prescription.