An article in the March 2019 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) highlighted how picking the best pharmacy for your medication needs can save you time and money. The first thing to find out is whether your insurer has negotiated with specific “preferred” pharmacies to offer lower out-of-pocket costs when you fill a prescription there. Almost all Medicare Part D plans and most employer-sponsored plans have made such preferred pharmacy arrangements. A 2017 survey from the Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute found that on average people paid 36 percent more for their medications when they did not use preferred pharmacies.

If using a preferred pharmacy is an option for you, you will need to weigh financial savings against several other factors. Today, pharmacies do more than fill prescriptions. Many now offer customers flu and other vaccinations. Some carry specialty drugs, such as medications that require injections or infusions. Others can monitor your blood pressure or blood sugar levels. If this additional care is important to you, you can save time by picking up your prescriptions at a pharmacy that offers these services. Be certain to tell your doctor about any services you receive at your pharmacy so that your medical record is up-to-date.

Convenience is another important factor: it is difficult to take medications as prescribed if it is a hassle to get them filled. While many larger chain pharmacies offer 24-hour or 7-days-a-week service, do not forget to see if your local, independent pharmacist might be a better choice. A survey of over 78,000 CR members suggests that these mom-and-pop stores offer the most personalized care for you and your family. Independent pharmacists scored high on courtesy, helpfulness, speed of checkout, and filling of prescriptions. The knowledge and accuracy of the pharmacists were also highly praised, which can be especially useful for a customer who has a complicated drug regime. If access to any pharmacy is difficult, mail order is an option that would let you skip going to a pharmacy altogether. Some insurance plans have their own programs. If not, CR recommends HealthWarehouse.com as one of the best places that you can purchase safe medications online.

No matter which pharmacy you choose, check with the pharmacist that you are getting the best price. Pharmacists are no longer bound by a gag clause that prevented them from telling customers with private health insurance whether paying cash would save them money. Your pharmacist might be able to find discounts and other ways for you to save on drugs; it never hurts to ask. However, pharmacists still have a gag clause in effect for the approximately 44 million Americans on Medicare until January 2020. If you are in this group, please remember to ask your pharmacist if using your insurance gives you the lowest price until then.

Once you find the best pharmacy for you, you should have all of your prescriptions filled there. Doing this means all of your prescriptions will be in a single computer system, so pharmacists can check for potential issues with new medications or any other safety concerns. The pharmacist might also be able to get your refills timed so that you only need to stop by once a month.