In October, the Maine Department of Human Services released its third annual survey of prescription prices for fifteen common drugs at 106 independent and chain pharmacies statewide. The ten lowest priced pharmacies (based on the cost of all fifteen drugs combined) were all locally owned drugstores. National chains, including Rite Aid, CVS, and Brooks, had among the highest overall costs.
Even more revealing, prices at Wal-Mart pharmacies, which ranked somewhere in the middle overall, varied substantially from one location to the next. Of the seven Wal-Mart stores surveyed, the total price for all fifteen drugs ranged from $691.52 to $805.33—a difference of more than 16 percent. Wal-Mart’s prices were lowest in those markets where it still faces a fair amount of competition, including Augusta and Bangor, and highest in those areas, like Lincoln and Calais, where it is practically the only game in town.
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs reached a similar conclusion in its own survey, which concluded, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, independent pharmacies were often cheaper than the chains.” As in Maine, the survey found, “Drugstore chains showed wide price differentials for the same drugs among their own stores.”