Why you should care
Because why should you pay top dollar for your medications when you don’t have to?
You go to the doctor for some annoying ache or pain, hoping it will be easily treatable with medication. Sure enough, the doctor tells you not to worry and writes a prescription. You head to your local pharmacy to pick up your meds, and the pharmacist rings up the total. A shocking $300 glows green on the cash register. You walk out of the pharmacy empty-handed.
It’s a scenario that happens every day throughout the U.S. and, as out-of-pocket costs for prescription medication continue to climb, it’s becoming more frequent. A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy found that brand-name oral prescription drugs rose about 9 percent annually between 2008 and 2016. Former head of product at Facebook, Doug Hirsch, recognized the problem of increasing drug costs nearly nine years ago. It was an idea born of extreme frugality — “I’m really cheap,” laughs Hirsch. In 2011, he went to pick up a prescription and was startled by the $400 price tag. Hirsch decided to try another pharmacy, where — to his surprise — they offered him a lower price. A third pharmacy was even cheaper. “Who knew you could negotiate for prescriptions?” he says.
And the idea for GoodRx was born. Today, the app sees 10 million users a month enjoying an estimated $9 billion monthly total in savings. It works like this: Search for your prescription to get a map of the nearest pharmacy locations and their prices. Head to the pharmacy with the lowest price and show them the GoodRx coupon on your phone.
The little-known secret that GoodRx exposes is that drug prices are not fixed. Also, many insurers have preferred relationships with pharmacies: If your insurer has a deal with Walgreens for a particular medication, the price is likely to be different at CVS. Costs can also be influenced by inventory and supply and demand. If one pharmacy has a large inventory of a particular drug, the cost will be lower than a pharmacy with a limited supply.
The little-known secret that GoodRx exposes is that drug prices are not fixed.
Naturally, the app benefits the uninsured, but it also helps those who are underinsured. Nearly half of Americans have high-deductible health plans, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But surprisingly, a GoodRx deal can be cheaper than the copay on many insurance plans. Last winter, Amanda, a mother of three from Missouri, used GoodRx during flu season when her sons needed Tamiflu. Even with insurance, the copay was expensive, but Amanda found a coupon on Hirsch’s app for $48. “The GoodRx price for Tamiflu was cheaper than Aetna’s price so we used that discount instead of insurance,” Amanda said in a 2018 testimonial on the company’s blog.
According to Hirsch, physicians are big proponents of the app as well. “They want their patients to be able to afford the medications they prescribe them,” he says. GoodRx’s biggest source of user growth has come from the doctors who distribute information to patients about the company.
There are a few other prescription cost-saving companies out there — ScriptSave WellRx, Easy Drug Card and Blink Health Rx are some of the more popular apps — but many only show drug prices for one pharmacy. GoodRx is the only app that gathers prices from all major pharmacies.
Of course, you won’t be able to find a cheaper price for every prescription. When searching one of my prescriptions, the prices listed were more than double what I pay with my insurance. Still, without insurance, the medication is more than $300 and GoodRx lists it as $120 at some pharmacies. If you’re uninsured, that price difference is huge.
Hirsch wants Americans to know they have other options. “When people first try the app, they think there must be a catch,” he says. “The only catch is that our health care system is broken.”