Consumer Reports Survey: One In Four People Who Regularly Take Meds Hit with Sticker Shock at the Pharmacy

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CR survey shows Americans left to scramble to find lower prices; 14 percent didn’t even fill their prescription

Consumers are seeing significant out-of-pocket cost increases across the board — from generics to treat common conditions to newer drug therapies.

A new survey from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs shows that twenty-five percent of Americans who regularly take a prescription drug say they now pay more out of pocket than they did 12 months ago for at least one of those medications. In some cases, the price increases are substantial. Americans were left to call their insurance companies, their doctors or ask pharmacists to help with lowering their prices. Some even went online to find discount coupons.

CR’s survey shows that some of the price increases are substantial. Twenty-four percent of regular prescription takers who said they payed more out-of-pocket shelled out $50 or more for a single prescription this year than they did for the same prescription a year ago. Nearly half of regular prescription takers who now pay more out of pocket (47%) said that, year over year, they paid an additional $20 or more for a drug they regularly take. Fifteen percent paid $100 more this year for one of their scripts than they did for the same one in 2016.

“Those are big, burdensome increases for nearly 28 million consumers with very little indication that the problem of rising costs will be solved anytime soon,” said Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports’ prescription drug program, Best Buy Drugs. “Consumers are seeing significant out-of-pocket cost increases across the board – from generics to treat common conditions to newer drug therapies.”

Consumer Reports’ prescription drug program, Best Buy Drugs, evaluates prescription drugs based on a scientific review of safety, efficacy, and cost. In its newly updated guide, Best Drugs for Less, CR gives extensive savings advice to help consumers purchase their needed medications at prices they can afford. The free guide is available in English and Spanish online at

The survey results are part of a nationally representative phone survey of nearly 1,000 adults who regularly take at least one prescription medicine by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Polling took place February 9th More details about the survey are available online at

The vast majority (74%) of regular users of prescription meds who pay more now say they did not receive any notification in advance that their costs might go up. While insurance companies can drop coverage of a drug or change the level of coverage, they are required to give consumers advance notice. People with Medicare Part D coverage, for example, must receive 60-days notice of any coverage changes.

Those are changes that can have a big impact on consumers: If your drug gets moved from a lower, cheaper “tier” of coverage, where you may only pay a $10 or $15 copay, to a higher, more expensive tier, where you may have to pay $40, $50, you could be on the hook for big cost increases over time. “Those changes can be huge for consumers, resulting in hundreds of dollars extra per year just for a single medication,” said Gill.

Consumer Reports asked regular prescription medication users, “which if any of the following did you do when you found out that your out-of-pocket cost increased?” Here’s how Americans responded:

  • Didn’t do anything but pay the higher price (37%)
  • Asked the pharmacist or doctor for a less expensive drug (35%)
  • Asked the pharmacist for a lower price on the same drug (22%)
  • Called the insurance company to see if it would cover a greater portion of the cost (20%)
  • Used a discount coupon (17%)
  • Shopped at another pharmacy for a lower price (15%)
  • Did not fill the prescription (14%)
  • Shopped online for a lower price (11%)

Perhaps most concerning is that the CR survey found that almost a quarter (24%) of regular prescription medication users said they are “not at all confident” that they will have access to affordable medicine in the future.    

CR Best Drugs for Less recommends nine ways to save big on your medications:

  • Talk to your doctor about costs. Speak up if the cost of your treatment is important to you.
  • Ask for generics, which can cost up to 90 percent less than brand name drugs.
  • Compare insurance plans during “open enrollment,” usually in the fall. Don’t get stuck with a plan that no longer covers your medications.
  • Try Costco. If you’re paying cash, Best Buy Drugs found that Costco consistently offered among the lowest retail prices.
  • Check your local pharmacy. CR found some real bargains at local independent pharmacies.
  • Consider $4/$10 discount generics. Stores like Walmart and Sam’s Club offer hundreds of common generics for $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply if you don’t use     insurance.
  • Always ask: “Is this your lowest price?” Costco told CR that pharmacists there can’t offer customers with Medicare a lower cash price unless the customer asks.
  • Get a 90-day prescription. For drugs you take monthly, it can be cheaper to get a three-month prescription and avoid a co-pay or two.
  • Look online. If you’re paying out of pocket, check to learn its “fair price” and use that to negotiate a lower price. Consider using discount coupons available at, or

Meanwhile, to help lower consumers’ cost burden overall, Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, is supporting numerous pro-consumer bills to make prescription drugs more affordable.

About Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. For 80 years, CR has provided evidence-based product testing and ratings, rigorous research, hard-hitting investigative journalism, public education, and steadfast policy action on behalf of consumers’ interests. Unconstrained by advertising or other commercial influences, CR has exposed landmark public health and safety issues and strives to be a catalyst for pro-consumer changes in the marketplace. From championing responsible auto safety standards, to winning food and water protections, to enhancing healthcare quality, to fighting back against predatory lenders in the financial markets, Consumer Reports has always been on the front lines, raising the voices of consumers.
MAY 2017
© 2017 Consumer Reports. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for advertising or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. We accept no advertising and pay for all the products we test. We are not beholden to any commercial interest. Our income is derived from the sale of Consumer Reports® magazine,® and our other publications and information products, services, fees, and noncommercial contributions and grants. Our Ratings and reports are intended solely for the use of our readers. Neither the Ratings nor the reports may be used in advertising or for any other commercial purpose without our prior written permission. Consumer Reports will take all steps open to it to prevent unauthorized commercial use of its content and trademarks.

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Douglas Love