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CONSUMER REPORTS: How to save on over-the-counter drugs

by Consumer Reports editors on May 12, 2013 2:40 AM

Drugstores may be a convenient choice for over-the-counter medications, but there’s a price to pay for convenience, says ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports.

ShopSmart recently featured findings from its price scan of 185 drugs at hundreds of stores nationwide that revealed potential savings of hundreds of dollars a year for shoppers willing to change their over-the-counter medication shopping habits.

Secret shoppers compared prices of common name- and store-brand nonprescription medications available at CVS, Walgreens, Target, Wal-Mart and supermarkets and found that Target and Wal-Mart beat the drugstore chains every time. Wal-Mart had the lowest prices on 26 items, the most of any of the retailers. Target offered the biggest savings on a single item — their store-brand ibuprofen (24 count) was 73 percent cheaper than the store-brand offering at Walgreens. When shopping for nonprescription medications, choose the right size container. The largest packages are not always the smartest buys. ShopSmart found the savings on some medium-sized bottles are comparable to their giant counterparts, and the drugs are less likely to expire before they can be used.

“If you’re still buying drugs at drugstores you’re missing out on a major way to save,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “Our price scans on many different products, including food, beauty items and now medications, show that by simply shopping at Wal-Mart and Target, you can cut your costs by hundreds of dollars a year.”

 

DRUGSTORE LOYALTY PROGRAMS

ShopSmart found that drugstore chains almost always had the highest regular price on nonprescription drugs, but joining a loyalty program at one of the big chains can help shoppers uncover deals. Here are some of the perks:

• CVS ExtraCare. Earn 2 percent back on almost all nonprescription purchases in stores and online; members receive extra rewards for buying select items each week. Additional rewards can be earned by enrolling in special beauty, diabetes and pharmacy programs. Rewards include instant savings on featured items and ExtraBucks cash-bask coupons for future purchases.

• Rite Aid Wellness+. Shoppers earn 1 point for every dollar spent on eligible nonprescription items in stores and 25 extra points for prescriptions. The program offers instant savings on featured items and +Up Rewards to redeem on future purchases. Earn 500 points and get rewards such as fitness memberships, magazine subscriptions and health screenings. +Up Rewards are good for 14 days. Wellness+ for Diabetes (free, with separate enrollment) offers exclusive member benefits.

• Walgreens Balance Rewards. Members earn points for buying certain items in stores and online (for example, 250 points for toothpaste, 3,000 for laundry detergent and 500 for prescriptions and immunizations). Shoppers receive instant savings on featured items. Earn 5,000 points to get $5 to spend on a future purchase; hit other point levels and get up to $50. Earn 10 points for every mile in the Walk with Walgreens fitness program; get bonus points by linking an AARP membership to a Balance Rewards account.

5 OTHER WAYS TO CUT COSTS

• Ask for a lower price. ShopSmart’s analysis showed that pharmacy staff didn’t always offer its secret shoppers the lowest possible price. Staffers sometimes suggested pharmacy discounts (such as those for students and seniors) and membership programs that brought prices down.

• Check the indies. Costco was the least expensive national retailer in our price scan, but prices from independent pharmacies sometimes came in even lower.

• Take a drive. ShopSmart’s analysis shows that if you head just a few miles outside of a city, retail prices of certain drugs take a plunge at independent and grocery store pharmacies.

• Check low-cost generic lists. Many retailers, including Kroger, Target and Wal-Mart, offer long lists of discount generic drugs that cost $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for 90 days.

• Fill 90-day prescriptions. If you use insurance, filling prescriptions for three months instead of one might save you two co-pays.

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