Shopping around for prescription drugs can save you a lot of money. And doing so can sometimes mean that the least expensive option is paying the retail price instead of going through your insurance, a Consumer Reports investigation found. Our secret shoppers called more than 150 pharmacies in six metropolitan regions around the U. asking for their retail cash prices for a one-month supply of five commonly prescribed drugs—basically the prices a consumer would pay without insurance. The five-drug “marketbasket” cost just $66 at the online pharmacy Health but $105 at Costco. The two highest-priced national retailers—CVS and Rite Aid—had prices closer to $900 for the five drugs. Ph., senior vice president of pharmacy at Costco, says, “We just price products as low as we possibly can and still make a modest profit.” Costco does that, he says, by offering a no-frills experience, with no 24-hour service and pharmacies closed on Sundays. When we asked CVS and Rite Aid about their comparatively higher prices, representatives for each explained that there are in-store programs that can help lower prices for people who don’t have insurance. But when we took new prescriptions to CVS and Rite Aid to verify what we were told, we got mixed results. Staff members at some pharmacies used store coupons and other vouchers to offer our shoppers much lower prices; others provided modest discounts or none at all. Before a company’s patent on a drug expires, generics manufacturers often race to file lawsuits to challenge the patent. The company that wins gets a six-month exclusive to sell the drug, so prices don’t drop until there’s more competition. And, in some cases, the maker of the brand-name drug undercuts competitors by jumping into the generic market early. “They can come out with their own version—an ‘authorized generic’—just before the patent expires to keep prices higher,” Schondelmeyer said. Whoever is first wins big, he notes: Drugstores are likely to stick with one manufacturer for at least six months. Over the next year or so, a slew of big-name drugs will become available as generics (see chart below). Makers of brand-name drugs try to keep customers with special deals, but it still makes sense to go generic. Drugmakers sometimes discourage the use of generics by making subtle changes to the branded drug—switching from a tablet to a capsule, for example, or offering a higher or lower dose. If you take one and don’t see a notable price drop after six months of switching, ask your pharmacist about getting a cheaper version from another supplier. Even if a coupon cuts your price at the counter, your employer and insurance company still foot the bill for the full price, and that can cost you in higher premiums later on. By law, pharmacists cannot substitute a generic version if the drug is in a different dosage form or strength. 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