The Savvy Shopper‘s Guide to Saving at the Costco Pharmacy

As a consumer expert and self-proclaimed "picky shopper," I‘m always on the lookout for ways to save money without sacrificing quality. And when it comes to prescription medications, the Costco pharmacy is one of my go-to spots for getting the lowest prices and best service.

If you‘ve never filled a prescription at Costco before, you may be wondering how it works and whether it‘s worth making a special trip. To help you navigate the process and make the most of your Costco pharmacy experience, here‘s my ultimate guide to saving time and money on your family‘s medications.

Why Costco Pharmacy is a Smart Choice

You probably already know that Costco offers unbeatable value on bulk groceries, household essentials, and even big-ticket items like electronics and appliances. But did you know that Costco pharmacies also consistently rank as one of the cheapest places to get prescription drugs?

In a 2018 prescription drug price survey by Consumer Reports, Costco beat out 45 other retail pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. For a basket of five common generic drugs, Costco‘s total price was just $105, compared to $752 at Walgreens and $866 at CVS. That‘s an incredible savings of over 85%!

How is Costco able to offer such low prices on prescriptions? The answer lies in their unique business model. Unlike most retail pharmacies, Costco operates on a membership-based model where customers pay an annual fee to access discounted prices on a wide variety of products.

This membership model allows Costco to maintain very low profit margins on individual items and instead make money through high sales volume and membership fees. In fact, Costco‘s gross margin was just 11% in 2020, compared to an average of 30% for other retailers.

By applying this low-margin, high-volume approach to their pharmacies, Costco is able to negotiate lower prices from drug manufacturers and pass those savings on to customers. They also operate their own in-house pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) to further reduce costs and improve efficiency.

The end result is that Costco can afford to sell prescriptions at prices that are often significantly lower than what you‘d find at other pharmacies, even with insurance. And as an added bonus, you don‘t even need to be a Costco member to use their pharmacy services!

What to Expect When Filling Prescriptions at Costco

If you‘re used to getting your prescriptions filled at a traditional retail pharmacy, the experience at Costco may be a bit different. Here‘s a step-by-step guide to using the Costco pharmacy:

  1. Locate the pharmacy counter. Most Costco warehouses have a separate pharmacy area, often near the front of the store. Look for signs or ask an employee for directions if needed. Note that you do NOT need a Costco membership to use the pharmacy – just tell the greeter at the entrance that you‘re there for the pharmacy.

  2. Bring your prescription and insurance card. You‘ll need a valid prescription from your doctor, either in paper form or called in electronically. Be sure to also bring your insurance card and a photo ID.

  3. Check in at the pharmacy counter. Let the pharmacy staff know that you have a new prescription to fill or need a refill on an existing prescription. They‘ll ask for your insurance information and may have some forms for you to fill out if you‘re a new patient.

  4. Wait for your prescription. Depending on how busy the pharmacy is and whether your prescription requires any special processing, it may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more to fill your order. The pharmacy staff will let you know an estimated wait time when you drop off your prescription.

  5. Pay and pick up your medication. Once your prescription is ready, you‘ll be called to the pharmacy counter to pay any applicable copays or out-of-pocket costs. Be sure to ask the pharmacist if you have any questions about your medication or how to take it properly.

One thing to keep in mind is that wait times at the Costco pharmacy can sometimes be longer than at other pharmacies, particularly during peak hours like weekends and holidays. To avoid frustration, I recommend calling ahead to make sure your prescription is ready before making a special trip.

You can also save time by signing up for Costco‘s online prescription management system, which allows you to request refills, track orders, and receive notifications when your prescriptions are ready for pickup. This free service is available to both members and non-members.

Tips for Maximizing Your Savings at the Costco Pharmacy

While Costco pharmacy prices are already impressively low, there are a few extra steps you can take to stretch your medication budget even further:

  1. Check if your insurance is accepted. While Costco does accept most major insurance plans, it‘s always a good idea to call your local warehouse and ask about your specific plan. This is especially important if you have Medicaid, as Costco does not currently accept Medicaid in most states.

  2. Compare prices with and without insurance. In some cases, paying cash for your prescription may actually be cheaper than using insurance, particularly if you have a high deductible plan. Ask the pharmacist to quote you both prices so you can make an informed decision.

  3. Join the Costco Member Prescription Program. If you‘re a Costco member, you can enroll in this free program to access even lower prices on certain medications. The exact discounts vary, but Costco claims that members can save up to 80% on brand-name and generic drugs.

  4. Use a prescription discount card. If you don‘t have insurance or your plan doesn‘t cover a particular medication, consider using a prescription discount card like GoodRx or SingleCare. These free cards can be used at Costco and other pharmacies to get a lower cash price on your prescriptions.

  5. Ask about 90-day supplies. For maintenance medications that you take long-term, getting a 90-day supply can often be more cost-effective than refilling every 30 days. Costco offers discounts on 90-day supplies for many common drugs, so it‘s worth asking the pharmacist if this option is available for your prescription.

  6. Coordinate your pharmacy trip with your regular Costco shopping. To make the most of your time and gas money, try to schedule your pharmacy pickups for the same day that you‘re already planning a Costco shopping trip. You can easily combine errands by dropping off your prescription first, doing your shopping, and then picking up your medication on the way out.

By following these expert tips and tricks, you can ensure that you‘re getting the absolute best value for your dollar at the Costco pharmacy. And with the convenience of one-stop-shopping, it‘s easy to make Costco your go-to destination for all your household and healthcare needs.

The Bottom Line

As a savvy shopper and consumer advocate, I highly recommend giving the Costco pharmacy a try, especially if you take multiple medications or have high out-of-pocket costs with your current pharmacy. With consistently low prices, a wide selection of drugs, and a commitment to excellent customer service, Costco is a top choice for anyone looking to save money on their family‘s prescriptions.

Of course, it‘s important to remember that while cost is certainly a key factor when choosing a pharmacy, it shouldn‘t be the only consideration. Be sure to also think about factors like convenience, insurance acceptance, and the level of personal attention and care you receive from the pharmacy staff.

That being said, I believe that for most people, the benefits of using the Costco pharmacy far outweigh any potential drawbacks. By taking advantage of Costco‘s low prices and member perks, you can potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on your essential medications. And that‘s a value proposition that‘s hard to beat!