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Why are online pharmacies cheaper?

When shopping around for anything from clothes to cars, chances are you will look online for a good deal. Why not do the same for your prescription medicine?


By Betsy Niemela
August 11, 2017

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An upcoming party is the perfect excuse for you to find a new dress. Before you buy the one you’ve been eyeing at the store, you check online to see if the dress is cheaper somewhere else.

Sound like you? Now, we can usually get a better deal from buying items online. The same goes for your prescription medicine and buying it at an online pharmacy.

Prescription costs keep going up

Each year, the cost of prescription medicines goes up and it seems like a trend that's here to stay. This has forced people to look for other options. One way to potentially get medicine at a lower cost is to order through a mail order pharmacy.

What is a mail order pharmacy?

A mail order pharmacy, which is sometimes called an online pharmacy, allows you to get your prescription medicine through the mail. Depending on your plan, these prescriptions might be cheaper. With some mail order companies you may only pay two copay’s for a three-month supply of medicine.

HealthPartners members:  Learn more about our VIPPs certified mail order pharmacy here!

If you search online, you can find a lot of mail order pharmacies. But, many of these aren’t real pharmacies. Meaning they aren’t regulated by any agencies and they may send you unsafe medicine.

The dangers of a rogue pharmacy

Not all online (mail order) pharmacies are safe or legal. We really don’t want you to get into a situation where you’re getting unsafe medicine. These fake pharmacies, often called “rogue pharmacies,” seem like a good option because they offer cheaper medicine. But there’s something to that old saying “you get what you pay for”. Some studies have found that medicine from these pharmacies didn’t have enough amounts of the actual medicine to be effective. Worse yet, some medicine had chalk, glue, poison and other harmful ingredients.

Top three things to look for in a mail order pharmacy

Before you purchase your prescription medication online, look for these three things:

  1. They’re certified
    Mail order pharmacies should be certified as a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS). There are fewer than 50 pharmacies in the United States that have this accreditation. VIPPS certified pharmacies must be reviewed every three years. You can tell if a mail order pharmacy is VIPPS certified by looking for the official VIPPS logo on their website.
  2. They’re affiliated with a reputable organization
    Rogue pharmacies come and go. They tend to pop up online and then disappear quickly. That’s why it’s important to get your prescription medicine from a mail order pharmacy that’s part of a company you know and trust.
  3. They always need to know your prescription
    Rogue pharmacies will say they don’t need a prescription for medicine, controlled substances or narcotics. This is not only alarming, it’s illegal. Any certified mail order pharmacy will require a doctor’s prescription before sending your medicine. If you are looking for cheaper prescription medicine, contact your health insurance provider to discuss your options. They can advise you on lower-cost alternatives.

Related content: Why did the cost of my prescription go up?

Betsy Niemela

Betsy Niemela is a Pharmacy Programs Manager at HealthPartners and a regular contributor to the HealthPartners Health Insurance Help blog. She knows how overwhelming health care can be, and enjoys helping members navigate confusing and frustrating issues and learning from those instances. Outside of work, Betsy enjoys sketching, painting and music. She also loves hiking with her dog Chester and enjoying Minnesota’s four seasons.

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