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Taking Medication Long Term? Consider a Mail-Order Pharmacy for Big Savings

An open box of mail order prescription medication.
Katy Pack

If you’re on one or more medications for the long haul—like heart medications or pills for your thyroid—you might want to take a look at mail ordering your drugs to both save money and the hassle of going to the pharmacy.

Although millions of prescriptions are still filled through local pharmacies, people are increasingly turning to mail-order pharmacies to make their lives easier (and usually save themselves some cash in the process). Here are some of the benefits:

  • You can usually order extended supplies of your routine medication, like receiving 90 days at once instead of 30.
  • Your medication is delivered right to your home, so no trip to the pharmacy or waiting around for your order to be completed.
  • You usually save money both because you’re buying more at once and because your insurance company can negotiate better rates. (More on that in a moment.)

How does it work? Mail-order pharmacies aren’t just random unvetted online stores where you can buy medication. Although they might have a web presence, they’re essentially just giant optimized pharmacies set up more like an order fulfillment center than a small standalone pharmacy. Instead of only one or two pharmacists on staff, they might have dozens or even hundreds of them working to fulfill and check prescriptions.

Those pharmacists still adhere to the same strict standards as your local pharmacy and, honestly, the quality checking might be even higher. The Washington Post asked Kirk Nilson, the senior vice president of OptumRx (a company that handles 1.3 billion prescriptions a year) how the medication is sorted and handled in their facilities:

Medications are sorted and scanned using high-resolution and high-speed scanners. All information is verified by pharmacists and undergoes up to 16 fulfillment quality checks. For instance, he says, if a prescription calls for 90 pills of a specific drug, the system knows what the total weight should be. A mismatch diverts the prescription to an employee for a recount and visual inspection to ensure the drug matches a picture of the medication’s shape, markings and color.

Good quality control, ease of delivery, and skipping the hassle of going to the pharmacy sounds pretty great. So how do you get in on the gig?

There are two ways to approach forming a relationship with a mail-order pharmacy. The easiest way, by far—if you have an existing insurance plan—is to contact your health insurance provider and simply ask about it. Most large insurance plans have what is known as Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs) whose job is to manage the relationship between the insurance company (and its customers) and pharmacies. They likely already have a plan (with discounts!) in place with one of the major mail-order pharmacies, like Express Scripts, Caremark, or OptumRx. If you’re interested in this and insured, call your insurance company first.

If your insurance company doesn’t have an existing mail-order pharmacy relationship or you don’t have insurance, you can also use the mail-order services provided by many traditional pharmacy chains, like CVS. Even without insurance, you can often still score discounts by purchasing 90-day supplies of generic medication through the mail-order branch of the company.

One thing to keep in mind, however, if you go the mail-order route but still use a local pharmacy for some prescriptions. It’s good practice to keep your local pharmacy updated on your medication list so the local pharmacist can check for any drug interactions while fulfilling your local prescriptions.

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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