Epilepsy Talk

Mail-Order Meds — Savings and Service | July 29, 2016

For some people, accessing the pharmacy remains one of the biggest barriers to retrieving prescriptions.

A lack of social support, time constraints and limited access to convenient transportation are commonly cited as reasons users cannot get their medication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But it’s not just patients who have difficulty getting to the pharmacy who benefit from mail-order pharmacies: These programs offer flexibility, time and cost-savings to all enrollees.


Many recurring prescriptions cost less when ordered through the mail.

By offering increased day supplies of prescriptions for chronic conditions (e.g., 90-day prescriptions vs. 30-day prescriptions) and saving on costs typically associated with brick-and-mortar retail pharmacies, mail-order programs present cost-savings opportunities that can then be passed on to the consumer.


Some mail order services will deliver maintenance medications through the mail, and also allow customers to pick up their prescription at a local pharmacy.

Mail-order customers who use in-store pickup, also receive the extended, 90-day maintenance medication prescriptions at the generally lower mail-order prices.

Customer service

With most mail-order programs, customers can make prescription refill requests online or by phone.

Patients can have prescriptions automatically sent on the refill date, or have alerts dispatched via email, phone or text to remind them that a prescription is nearing the refill date.

In many cases, mail-service customers can check their order online or by phone, and receive digital consumer health education about their medication and health condition.

Care quality

An American Journal of Managed Care report found that mail-order pharmacy use is not associated with adverse events in most patients living with chronic illness.

To the contrary, researchers said mail-order programs could be associated with improved health outcomes.

The data also suggests that efforts to increase the availability of mail-order programs could be an important strategy for improving processes and outcomes of care for patients with chronic illness.

Consider the following before choosing a mail-order pharmacy:

Before you sign up with a mail-order pharmacy, check the prices.

Legitimate mail-order pharmacies may have high retail prices, but your out-of-pocket cost (co-pay) is likely to be very low.

If the retail price of the drugs is too good to be true, it is probably a scam; the drugs may not be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Look for a VIPPS seal.

If a website has the seal, it means it is among the “Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites” and approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Ensure that there’s a pharmacist that you can call, email, or chat with online if you have any questions.

If not, consider purchasing your prescription elsewhere.

Make sure the mail-order pharmacy asks for your prescription. If it doesn’t, it may not be legitimate, and you could get the wrong medication.

For employers and consumers, a 30-day brand-name prescription is still cheaper at a mail pharmacy than a retail community pharmacy.

However, mail’s economic advantage is vanishing because six out of ten employers allow community pharmacies to fill 90-day prescriptions for maintenance medications.

These programs reduce retail reimbursement and shrink the mail-retail gap.

Now the powers that be are trying to take away the ability for us to have 90-days’ supply of our meds and equipment delivered to our doorstep.

Even though it’s a boon for people who depend on multiple prescriptions that would otherwise be running out at different times every month, forcing us to virtually live at the pharmacy? No less running out of meds!

The premise of angry pharmacists, losing business across the nation, is that “mail-order treats filling a prescription as delivering a commodity — like buying books from Amazon or sheets from Lands’ End — not providing an aspect of medical care, and that patients benefit from a consistent relationship with their pharmacist.”

It turns out they’re not necessarily trying to ban mail-order (impossible even if they wanted to), but rather are fighting for new legislation — that would give traditional pharmacists “the right to offer multi-month prescriptions on a similar basis to those offered by the mail-order houses.”

The other argument they make is that people shouldn’t be forced by their insurers to use mail-order if they do not wish to.

Many insurers apparently require it because it’s simply cheaper for them.

But, there’s a role for BOTH retail and mail-order — because pharmacies are still the best way to fill prescriptions needed immediately, and mail-order is best suited for “maintenance drugs” that people like us take continuously.

One NY Times blogger writes: “Once, my pharmacist circulated a petition warning customers about the dangers of mail-order giants putting people like him out of business.”

It’s like Wal-Mart vs. the Mom-and-Pop shops of America. If you have a chronic illness like epilepsy, mail-order meds can be a godsend.

And I think the warm fuzzy interaction with your local pharmacist is overrated — if not altogether fictionalized.

“Everyone knows that mail-service pharmacies save money for consumers, employers, unions and government agencies,” said Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) President and CEO Mark Merritt. 

“It’s wrong for independent drug stores to try and enrich themselves at the expense of small employers struggling to offer affordable prescription benefits to their employees.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the value provided by those participating in the federal employees’ health plan.

For prescription drugs dispensed through mail-order pharmacies, the average mail-order price was about 27 percent below the average cash-price paid by consumers for a brand name at a retail pharmacy and 53 percent below the average cash-price paid for generic drugs.


Official Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy peer-reviewed data found that highly automated mail-service pharmacies dispensed prescriptions with 23 times greater accuracy than retail pharmacies.

The mail-service error rate was zero in several of the most critical areas, including dispensing the correct drug, dosage, and dosage form.

American Journal of Managed Care: Consumers receiving their prescription medications for chronic conditions through a mail-service pharmacy “were more likely to take them as prescribed by their doctors than did patients who obtained them from a local pharmacy.”

Key findings from the study include:

Mail-order pharmacy users were more likely than local pharmacy users to have a financial incentive to fill their prescriptions by mail (49.6 percent vs. 23.0 percent), and to live a greater distance away from a local pharmacy (8.0 miles vs. 6.7 miles).

84.7 percent of patients who received their medications by mail, stuck to their physician-prescribed regimen at least two-thirds of the time vs. 76.9 percent who picked up their medications at “brick and mortar” Kaiser Permanente pharmacies.

It’s difficult to dispute cost-savings, reliability, door-to-door convenience, timely refills and accuracy.

For us, that’s enough to make you sign up today.

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  1. The pharmacist package my meds, for a month. and I don,t pay for any of it.


    Comment by michele metzger — July 29, 2016 @ 11:13 PM

  2. Thank you Phylis! This is very helpful. I get my meds through mail order and it is so convenient! They also have an auto-refill option which is really nice.


    Comment by Soo Ihm — July 30, 2016 @ 1:11 AM

  3. Good for you. Sort of takes the guesswork out of it, doesn’t it?


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 30, 2016 @ 9:54 AM

  4. How can I get brand name depakote even though the insurance won’t pay for anything but generic? It is causing more seizures and side effects!


    Comment by Curtis McMurtrey — August 30, 2016 @ 10:23 PM

  5. Curtis, here are two resources for you:

    RxSavingsPlus is what I use. It’s a free drug prescription discount card, to help lower the price for medication. It can be used at CVS Pharmacy, Target, Rite Aid and 60,000 participating pharmacies nationwide. And it offers an average of 20% off the retail price of drugs. (Kind of skimpy, but one-stop shopping.)


    There’s also Prescription Hope with over 1,500 brand name medications are offered as prescribed by your doctor. $15 per prescription per month service fee. There is a yearly enrollment fee of only $15, no other medication cost and no hidden costs. It was recommended by a reader and sounds terrific.


    There’s also Health Insurance — No-Cost & Low-Cost


    See if any of these work for you…


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 31, 2016 @ 9:43 AM

  6. All mine are refill and it is cheaper and a 3 month supply generic and Brand names. A pharmacists to speak to over the phone for any questions. You do receive a print out each time you receive your meds. And a time to call or mail, or text your request. If the Dr. Changes the prescription they can call it like a regular pharmacy.


    Comment by red2robi — September 21, 2016 @ 4:43 PM

  7. I’m not so lucky. First of all, the pharmacy will not refill 3 months at a time. (So I get to pay the co-pay each time. (Sneaky little devils.)

    I do get reminders by email and phone about my prescription being ready and I can have a comprehensive statement at the end of the year.

    And yes, my humanoid pharmacist is available for questions, problems and refills.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 21, 2016 @ 6:18 PM

  8. Mail-order medications is an interesting concept. The only downside is what would happen if it was stolen.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 26, 2018 @ 9:23 AM

  9. Phylis Feiner Johnson, I find the idea to be interesting. My only issue with it is that if it fell into the wrong hands, the person who it is actually intended for might get in trouble with the authorities.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 27, 2018 @ 12:52 PM

  10. That is true.


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — July 28, 2018 @ 1:20 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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