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The Cheapest Place to Buy Generic Drugs

If you've been buying generic medicine at a major convenience store, you might want to explore other options.

A 2013 Consumer Reports survey revealed people can pay up to 447 percent or $749 more on generic medicine at the highest-priced pharmacy, compared to the lowest. Costco had the cheapest prices, while CVS, Rite Aid, and Target had the most expensive prices for generic drugs.

The reason why generic drugs are priced so low in Costco is that the discount chain relies on the lower prices to attract customers who will shop for other goods, while stores like CVS and Rite Aid depend on the pharmacy as their main source of income, Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, Ph.D., Pharm.D., a professor of pharmacy economics at the University of Minnesota, tells Consumer Reports.

Read on for the breakdown of the lowest- to highest-priced stores.

Here is the list of stores ranked in order of the lowest to highest prices, according to the consumer watchdog:

  1. Costco
  4. Sam's Club
  5. Independent pharmacies
  6. Kmart
  7. Walmart
  8. Walgreens
  9. Grocery stores
  10. Target
  11. Rite Aid
  12. CVS

Of course, if you have insurance that will cover the cost of the drugs, the price difference may not be that much between the stores. But that might not always be the case, so be sure to comparison shop before you make the purchase. Sometimes the cost of buying a generic medicine out of pocket at Costco may be lower than your insurance copay, according to some redditors in a thread discussing the study.

If you are paying out of pocket, it only makes sense to shop at the store that provides the lowest prices. The amount you can save buying medicine can be quite hefty. Shoppers in the study found that a generic Lipitor at Costco costs around $17, while CVS would sell it for $150.

And don't forget to also ask for a better price. The consumer magazine says:

Our analysis showed that shoppers didn't always receive the lowest available price when they called the pharmacy. Sometimes they were given a discounted price, and other times they were quoted the list price. Be sure to explain—whether you have insurance or not—that you want the lowest possible price. Our shoppers found that student and senior discounts may also apply, but again, you have to ask.

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