As high as inflation has been lately, prescription drug prices have soared even higher. The cost of prescription drugs has risen 35% since 2014, according to Healthcare Finance, compared to 19% for all goods and services.
According to a 2021 Gallup survey, some 18 million Americans cannot afford their prescriptions, and 10% of adults are skipping doses to cut costs. A National Health Survey report shows more than five million Medicare beneficiaries are struggling to pay for prescription drugs.
To help ease the burden, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban launched the Cost Plus Drug Company in early 2022. online marketplace offers prescription drugs at prices well below most retail pharmacies and even many discount sites.
“It’s just plain wrong that people have to choose between eating, their rent and taking their medicine or buying their medicine in the United States of America in 2022,” Cuban told PBS in June. “It’s simply not true. And it was obvious that there would be no political solution.”
The new signed Inflation Reduction Act gives Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices for the very first time, but only on a limited number of drugs. A June 2022 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that Medicare could have saved $3.6 billion in 2020 if it purchased prescription drugs through Cuba’s Cost Plus Drugs.
How does Cost Plus Drugs work, why are its prescription drug prices so low, and how can you take advantage of its low prices? We will give you all the details.
What is Cost Plus Drugs?
Cost Plus Drugs was launched in January by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and radiologist Dr. Alexander Oshmyansky, now the company’s CEO.
“When I see an industry as convoluted and messy as the pharmaceutical industry is, I saw a great opportunity,” said the Cuban Shark Tank investor. on The View in February, “and that allows us to charge much, much less”.
The Cost Plus Drugs site has been launched in an effort to avoid pharmacy benefit managers – intermediaries who negotiate drug prices with manufacturers on behalf of health insurance providers. PBMs have been criticized for pocketing negotiated savings, as well as a practice called “spread pricing” – charging payers like Medicaid more than they pay the pharmacy for a drug and keeping the difference (or “spreading”) as profit.
Shortly before its launch, Cost Plus Drugs created its own pharmacy benefits manager, allowing it to provide drugs to companies with health plans. But Cuban promised that Cost Plus Drugs’ PBM would be “radically transparent” in negotiating drug prices and would not employ spread pricing.
What drugs are available at Cost Plus Drugs?
As of August 23, Cost Plus Drugs offers 338 medications, including drugs for high cholesterol, kidney disease, mental health, diabetes, arthritis, migraines, allergies, cancer, HIV and many other conditions .
Cost Plus Drugs sells the 10 most prescribed generic drugs in the United States – atorvastatin, levothyroxine, lisinopril, metformin, amlodipine, metoprolol, albuterol, omeprazole, losartan and simvastatin – as well as many of the 50 most prescribed drugs. Although Cost Plus Drugs warns that some drugs are in short supply due to supply chain issues, a random check of 50 of its 337 drugs found they were all available.
The company is constantly expanding its inventory and provides a form for submitting requests for new drugs. On The View, Cuban said he hopes to sell 2,000 drugs by mid-2023.
How much lower are Cost Plus Drugs prescription prices?
Drug prices in general vary greatly depending on the provider and the PBM. Cost Plus Drugs provides a comparison between a listed retail price and its own price for each drug sold.
Some of the savings are noteworthy: 30 pills of the generic version of the bipolar disorder drug Abilify (aripiprazole) sells for $678, compared to the same quantity and dosage for $6 at Cost Plus Drugs.
However, retail prices for prescription drugs can be higher than many people actually pay. Discount online pharmacies like GoodRx, Blink Health, and SingleCare already provide coupons that can significantly reduce prices. Even so, prices at Cost Plus Drugs compare favorably.
For example, a 30-pill box of the generic version of Zegerid — commonly prescribed for acid reflux — currently sells for $20 at Cost Plus Drugs. Blink Health sells generic Zegerid for $86, well below a listed retail price of $2,073, but four times more than Cost Plus Drugs.
The savings seem real for many prescription drugs. Thirty pills of the generic version of heart medication Toprol XL (metoprolol succinate) are $3.90 at Cost Plus Drugs, compared to $24 for 90 pills (or $8 for 30) at Costco.
The generic version of the antidepressant Pristiq costs $18 at Cost Plus Drugs. Discount pharmacy GoodRx sells it for $25, the second-lowest price we could find online. That’s significantly less than the average retail price of $290, but more than Cost Plus Drugs.
At CVS, a three-month supply of 20 mg of generic Lipitor (atorvastatin), a commonly prescribed medication for high cholesterol, costs $362 without insurance.
At Cost Plus Drugs, the same three-month supply sells for $6.
The company is also building an $11 million, 22,000 square foot factory in Dallas to make its own versions of generic drugs, which could drive prices down even further.
How do I order prescription drugs from Cost Plus Drugs?
First, you’ll want to check the list of drugs available at Cost Plus Drugs to see if it has the prescription drugs you need. If so, you will need to create an online account, verify your email address, and enter basic information about your medical history and the medications you are currently taking.
Once registered with Cost Plus Drugs, you can provide your doctor with a paper form with all the information they will need to submit your prescription.
Alternatively, you can ask your doctor to write a prescription that includes your name, email address, date of birth, and any medications you are taking. The National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP) provider ID for Cost Plus medications is 4940208 and their phone number for prescriptions is 833-926-3384.
Your doctor can also fax your prescription information or the paper form to 650-683-9775.
Why are prescription drugs so cheap at Cost Plus Drugs?
Unlike the mysterious calculations behind drug pricing at traditional pharmacies, Cost Plus Drugs uses a transparent method: the wholesale price Cost Plus Drugs pays for the drug plus a 15% markup, a $3 pharmacy fee, and $5 shipping fee. Prescriptions are filled by pharmaceutical service startup Truepill.
On the company’s mission page, Cuban specifically calls out the price of albendazole, a drug used to treat hookworm, which continues to thrive among poorer communities in the southeastern United States. (In a 2017 article, researchers found that more than one-third of residents in one Alabama county were infected with hookworm.)
Normally, albendazole costs an average of $441 for its daily dose of two tablets, which can be taken for up to 30 days. At a wholesale price of $26 plus a $4 markup and a $3 pharmacy fee, Cost Plus Drugs can sell these two tablets for $33, plus $5 for shipping. Multiply that $408 in savings for two tablets by 30 days and you’re talking about a potential difference of $12,240.
Does Cost Plus Drugs take health insurance?
Cost Plus Drugs does not currently accept any health insurance. The site claims that “even without insurance, our prices are lower than what you would pay using your insurance at a typical pharmacy.”
The company does, however, work with some drug benefit managers and allow the use of prescription drug discount cards for their members. According to the Cost Plus Drugs website, PBMs who work with Cost Plus Drugs can ask members to pay the price listed on its website or the insurance co-pay amount, whichever is lower.
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