Background: Cash prices for prescription drugs vary widely in the United States.
Objective: To describe cash price variation by retail pharmacy type for 10 generic and 6 brand-name drugs throughout the United States and stratified by ZIP code.
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: Drug pricing data from GoodRx, an online tool for comparing drug prices, representing more than 60 000 U.S. pharmacies (fall 2015).
Measurements: Cash prices for a 1-month supply of generic and brand-name drugs were ascertained. Stratified by ZIP code, relative cash prices for groups of generic and brand-name drugs were estimated for big box, grocery-based, small chain, and independent pharmacies compared with a reference group of large chain pharmacies.
Results: Across 16 325 ZIP codes, 68 353 unique pharmacy stores contributed cash prices. When stratified by 5-digit ZIP code, the relative cash prices for generic drugs at big box, grocery-based, small chain, and independent pharmacies compared with those at large chain pharmacies were 0.52 (95% CI, 0.51 to 0.53), 0.82 (CI, 0.81 to 0.83), 1.51 (CI, 1.45 to 1.56), and 1.61 (CI, 1.58 to 1.64), respectively. The relative cash prices for brand-name drugs were 0.97 (CI, 0.96 to 0.97), 1.00 (CI, 0.99 to 1.00), 1.06 (CI, 1.05 to 1.08), and 1.03 (CI, 1.02 to 1.04), respectively.
Limitation: Results may not reflect current drug prices and do not account for point-of-sale discounts or price matching that may be offered by smaller pharmacies.
Conclusion: Compared with large chains, independent pharmacies and small chains had the highest cash prices for generic drugs and big box pharmacies the lowest. Relative differences in cash prices for brand-name drugs were modest across types of retail pharmacies.
Primary funding source: Arnold Ventures.