When penicillin first became available in the 1940’s, it was heralded as the “miracle drug of the age,” and the world became a much less dangerous place. Since that time, doctors have routinely relied on antibiotics to treat infections caused by bacteria. Hence it comes as no surprise that the macrolide antibiotic azithromycin, generic for Zithromax, was the 11th most frequently prescribed medicine by doctors in the first quarter of 2016, according to RetailMeNot Rx Saver (formerly LowestMed.com).
We compared the cash price for six 250 milligram pills, which are frequently called a “Z pack,” in the U.S and Canada. When we used WellRx, the best price that we could find in multiple locations across the country was only $6.88 with a free coupon. These locations were primarily local independent pharmacists, but also at a few pharmacies attached to grocery stores. If you’re in Wisconsin, for example, Aurora Pharmacy, which operates 66 pharmacies across the states, sells six 250 milligram azithromycin pills for only $3.99. When we called a Toronto location of Shoppers Drug Mart, one of the largest pharmacy chains in Canada, the same six 250 milligram azithromycin costs 21.82 CAD, which equals $17.08 after the currency conversion and including the international transaction fee. Americans only pay 40% for the same pills as our Canadian neighbors.
Are generic drugs a big part of medications dispensed in America?
The answer is a resounding yes. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 85% of all prescriptions filled in the U.S. are for generic drugs. Generics have the same effectiveness, strength, purity, safety, and active ingredients as brand-name drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is hard at work approving new applications for generic drugs. According to an interview with FDA Commission Scott Gottlieb that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a record-breaking 126 applications received approval in July 2018.
People may think that generics are not as effective as brand-name drugs, but that could not be further from the truth. The only differences in a generic are the inactive ingredients, appearance, and price. Generics can cost on average 85% less than the brand-name drugs they are virtually identical to. For example, if you wanted to pay cash for six 250 milligram Zithromax pills, that would cost you $213.05. In this instance, by choosing the generic option, you save almost 97%!
How can I use this tip to save money for my family?
If you have a high copayment for prescription drugs, know that sometimes you can actually save money by just paying the cash price and not using your insurance. Different pharmacies sell the same pills for different prices, and sometimes those differences can be a lot. So it pays to shop around. Two places you should never forget to check are your local independent pharmacies and pharmacies attached to chain grocery stores. When Consumer Reports priced out the cost of five frequently prescribed medicines earlier this year, the best price at an independent pharmacist was only $69, but the highest was also $1,351.
Thankfully, technology can save you having to run around town or making many phone calls. Go to WellRX and GoodRx to lookup the cash price at different pharmacies in your area. Both companies also have apps available for iOS and Android smartphones. If you are struggling to afford the medications that you need, your best option is to head over to NeedyMeds.org. Along with their free drug discount card and drug pricing calculator, they also have listings of prescription assistance programs, which provide free or discounted medicines to people who are unable to afford them.