Objectives: To measure variations in drug prices across and within zip codes that may reveal simple strategies to improve patients' access to prescribed medications.
Study design: We compared drug prices at different types of pharmacies across and within local markets. In-store prices were compared with a Web-based service providing discount coupons for prescription medications. Prices were collected for 2 generic antibiotics because most patients have limited experience with them and are less likely to know the price ranges for them.
Methods: Drug prices were obtained via telephone from 528 pharmacies in Los Angeles (LA) County, California, from July to August 2014. Online prices were collected from GoodRx, a popular Web-based service that aggregates available discounts and directly negotiates with retail outlets.
Results: Drug prices found at independent pharmacies and by using discount coupons available online were lower on average than at grocery, big-box, or chain drug stores for 2 widely prescribed antibiotics. The lowest-price prescription was offered at a grocery, big-box, or chain drug store in 6% of zip codes within the LA County area. Drug prices varied dramatically within a zip code, however, and were less expensive in lower-income areas. The average price difference within a zip code was $52 for levofloxacin and $17 for azithromycin.
Conclusions: Price shopping for medications within a small geographic area can yield considerable cost savings for the uninsured and consumers in high-deductible health plans with high negotiated prices. Clinicians and patient advocates have an incentive to convey this information to patients to improve adherence to prescribed medicines and lower the financial burden of purchasing prescription drugs.