A comparison of mail-service and retail community pharmacy claims in 5 prescription benefit plans

Res Social Adm Pharm. 2009 Jun;5(2):133-42. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2008.06.002. Epub 2009 Jan 31.


Background: Little evidence has been presented to date that would either support or refute a widely held belief that mail-service pharmacy utilization routinely produces savings in drug benefit costs for prescription benefit plan sponsors.

Objective: To present a comparative analysis of mail-service and community pharmacy service drug benefit costs for 5 employer-sponsored prescription drug benefit plans.

Methods: A cross-sectional comparison of 17,725 matched transaction pairs of community and mail-service prescriptions from a data set comprised 484,987 prescription claims from a convenience sample of 5 employer-sponsored prescription benefit plans. Differences between community pharmacy and mail-service prescription transactions were examined at the per-unit level of analysis for drug ingredient costs, dispensing fees, co-payments, dollar amounts paid by plan sponsor, and total dollar amounts.

Results: Overall, the total cost of prescriptions was lower through mail-service pharmacies for all 5 plans studied. Two of 5 plans had co-payment incentives to use mail-service, yet plan sponsors paid more for mail-service drugs; respectively, 4.5% and 8.3% more overall, 25.0% and 21.4% more for generic medications; and 3.0% and 7.0% more for brand name medications. Mail-service co-payments were 48.9% and 51.7% lower. Mail-service utilization rates were 15.2% and 31.5% of the total number of prescriptions dispensed in the period studied. Three of 5 plans had no co-payment incentive to use mail-service and paid less for mail-service drugs; respectively, 18.7%, 6.6%, and 15.7% less overall; 17.4%, 15.6%, and 7.9% less for generic medications; and 18.8%, 5.2%, and 16.6% less for brand name medications. Mail-service co-payments were 10.5% more, 5.2% less, and 1.8% more than community pharmacy co-payments, respectively. Mail-service utilization rates were 0.8%, 1.2%, and 4.4%.

Conclusion: Co-payment incentives to use mail-service pharmacies instead of community pharmacies were associated with higher mail-service utilization rates and with higher costs to plan sponsors. Absence of a co-payment incentive to use mail-service pharmacies was associated with lower mail-service utilization rates and with lower costs to plan sponsors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Community Pharmacy Services / economics*
  • Cost Sharing / economics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Costs
  • Drugs, Generic / economics
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Pharmaceutical Services / economics*
  • Postal Service / economics*
  • United States


  • Drugs, Generic