Drugstore vs. Grocery Store Pharmacies: Our Cost Comparison
Which pharmacy is right for me? Where can I get the best deals on my prescriptions? Should I go to a grocery store or drug store pharmacy? If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re not alone.
Navigating which pharmacy is right for you can be a daunting task, so we took a look at options at both drug store and grocery store pharmacies to help you make heads or tails of it.
Why Prices Vary From Pharmacy to Pharmacy
But before we look into which pharmacy type is more cost efficient, let’s discuss why prices may vary. The price of your prescription can widely vary between, say, CVS and Walmart pharmacies because of two factors: health insurance and market power.
Health plans often work with specific pharmacies. So, if your health insurance changed, you may have had the unpleasant experience of going to the pharmacy to pick up your prescription as usual, only to learn the price increased substantially. The prescription can be filled anywhere, but the best price will be at the designated pharmacy.
The market power of large brands like CVS and Walgreens means that they can demand a higher rate of repayment from the health plans they work with, meaning your cost might also be higher.
Grocery Store vs. Drug Store Pharmacies: What’s Right for You?
With maximum savings in mind, we compared the cost savings benefits at three popular drug stores: CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid and three major grocery stores: Walmart, Publix and Kroger. We also found and noted where cost savings programs like GoodRx and SingleCare are accepted.
Grocery Store Pharmacies
One of the main advantages of a grocery store pharmacy is convenience. Instead of driving to a second store, you can turn in your script and while you wait for it to be filled, shop for groceries. And as grocery stores continue to emphasize the connection between health, food and overall wellness, in-store pharmacies are a natural step.
Walmart not only offers groceries, but also pharmacy services — including drugs for your pet, and mail order options. With the $4 drug program, you can save money on common generic prescriptions for health needs such as cholesterol, diabetes, family planning and blood pressure. The discounted prescription program starts at $4 and we noticed a range of $4 to $15 for a 30-day supply and $10 to $40 for a 90-day supply.
While Walmart does not have its own savings program for pharmacy services, the price of drugs is already low and they do accept GoodRx and SingleCare.
When Publix ended its free prescription drug program in 2022, it fell back a few paces as a cost-effective pharmacy. Also, while it isn’t listed on the GoodRx site as a participating pharmacy, when searching for some drugs, you’ll find that some Publix pharmacies do accept GoodRx coupons. Publix pharmacies also accept CVS Caremark and Express Scripts.
With an easy to download app and convenient online forms for transferring your prescription, Publix is user friendly. But the biggest benefit to Publix pharmacy is the $7.50 drug program. “The Next Best Thing to Free” offer means that for some common medications, you’ll pay just $2.50 a month.
Kroger is the only grocery store on our list with its own pharmacy savings program — the Kroger Health Savings Club. Once you sign up for the club, some 30-day supplies of common maintenance medications are free and some are between $3 and $8. The catch is you pay up front for the plan, $36 per year for individuals and $72 for a family plan.
While Kroger parted ways with GoodRx, they do accept SingleCare. The best thing about Kroger pharmacy? Price transparency. Kroger provides a list of over 100 medications with prices for between 30- and 120- day supplies.
Grocery Store Pharmacy Cost Comparison
|Grocery Store Pharmacy
*after paying for the health savings plan
The old standard, your neighborhood drugstore. You might even know your pharmacist by name. Certainly, most drugstore pharmacies offer more health services than just prescription refills. With clinics, vaccines and flu shots, and trusted advice from your friendly pharmacist, many people never look beyond their local drugstore.
CVS pharmacy is undoubtedly an industry leader, but do they offer the best prices? At least they are transparent about the costs. Similar to shopping for insurance through Progressive’s comparison tool, CVS offers ways to search for the best price on prescription meds.
The CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit manager offers the CVS ExtraCare card. You might also use (and love) a regular CVS rewards card. Sound like a lot? If you have a regular card and an ExtraCare card and want to link them, you can easily sign in to your CVS account and do so.
The benefits of CVS ExtraCare? First, it’s a free membership program. You’ll get 2% back on CVS brand health-related items such as cold and flu medication. You can shop in-store or online and the reward applies to Health Care Flexible Spending Account eligible items. With weekly discount offers and a birthday treat, each family member has the potential to earn up to $50 back per year. Did we mention that family members can include pets?
Plus, take it a step further and sign up for Pharmacy & Health Rewards and you can boost your savings on prescriptions.
Similar to CVS (but not as robust), Walgreens offers the Rx Savings Finder so you can search for your prescription medication and find the lowest price. This tool is especially helpful if you don’t have insurance.
The Walgreens Prescription Savings Club transparently lists hundreds of medications along with prices for 30- and 90-day supplies. But what’s the catch? The savings club program is $20 per year for individual membership and $35 for up to a family of five. It is important to note that the Prescription Savings Club does not work with insurance, so it can be a great deal if you don’t have it.
If the savings club isn’t for you, there’s the free myWalgreens rewards program that gets you 1% Walgreens Cash rewards per $1 spent, even at the pharmacy.
With recent mergers falling through, the future of Rite Aid is a little uncertain, but if it’s the pharmacy nearest you, they do offer some smart savings programs — especially if you’re over 65. Unfortunately, Rite Aid does not list average costs of prescriptions medications, so transparent price comparison is not so simple.
With the regular Rite Aid Rewards program, you can earn 10 points on each $1 copay on eligible government funded prescriptions and up to 750 points on certain non-government funded prescriptions.
For people 65 and over, Rite Aid offers 5x the points on eligible in store purchases on the first Wednesday of each month.
Drugstore Pharmacy Cost Comparison
|Grocery Store Pharmacy
*after paying for the prescription savings membership
Grocery Store or Drugstore Pharmacy? How to Decide
When making the choice between a grocery store or drugstore pharmacy, there are three main considerations to help you decide: insurance, brand name or generic and 30- or 90-day supply.
If you have insurance, chances are it will be quite clear which pharmacy accepts it, but it might pay to check both drugstore and grocery stores pharmacies to see which is cheaper. If you’re at retirement age, and without insurance there are ways to save on prescriptions, including GoodRx and SingleCare cards, as well as the in store savings mentioned above.
If you don’t need the brand name version of a certain drug, generic prices will be cheaper. Some brand names don’t have a generic version, so if you need one of those drugs, you could save by using the price finding tools offered by CVS and Walgreens.
It might seem cheaper to get the 30 day supply, but some pharmacies offer a discount on 90 day supply – which saves you not only money, but also an extra trip.
Contributor Veronica Matthews writes on lifestyle topics from North Carolina.