For countless people across the country, quality health care is unaffordable, and the high costs of prescription drugs can even prevent patients from accessing needed treatment. However, one drug company went viral on TikTok with claims about cutting medical costs for people all over the nation. But does it work? How can you use it? Here’s what to know about using Cost Plus Drugs, the pharmacy founded by billionaire Mark Cuban.
Since being founded in January 2022, Cost Plus Drugs has taken TikTok by storm under hashtags like #bigpharma, #healthcarecosts, and #prescriptioncosts, which altogether have over 180 million views. Millions of people all over the internet have lauded Cuban for subverting the high costs of traditional pharmacies altogether, but how does it measure up for the end-user? Does it really deliver on its promise to provide low-cost prescriptions?
According to Cost Plus Drugs’ mission statement, Cuban believes “every American should have access to safe, affordable medicines,” even if you don’t have health insurance, or have a high-cost plan. “No American should have to suffer or worse [just] because they can’t afford basic prescription medications,” Cuban writes in the statement. His company sells a variety of generic drugs at much lower prices than the majority of pharmacies, like Walgreens or CVS.
In today’s prescription drug market, even the most basic medications can cost a fortune: Some versions of insulin can cost anywhere from $175 and $300 for a 28-day supply; the average cost for high blood pressure medication is $329 for a standard 30-day dose; and some brand-name medications for anxiety can cost over $1,000 without insurance. Meanwhile, those same medications can cost as little as $10 or less for a monthly supply at Cost Plus Drugs (when the medicines are carried — not all medications are available).
“[Cost Plus Drugs] is different [from standard pharmacies] because, as a public benefit corporation, it is socially and mission-driven to help people afford prescription drugs, rather than just benefiting shareholders,” says Gabriel Levitt, president and co-founder of PharmacyChecker.com, a company that verifies online pharmacies and compares prescription drug prices. Levitt, who is not affiliated with Cost Plus Drugs, is also the founder of Prescription Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to lowering drug prices in America.
Levitt notes that Cost Plus Drugs has the potential to change up access to pharmaceuticals — but it can’t do everything. “The biggest problem in the American pharmaceutical market is with patented, brand name drugs and, to date, [Cost Plus Drugs] only sells generic drugs,” he says. “Generic drugs, unlike brand name drugs, are often already affordable.” Patented, brand-name drugs are outside the pharmacy’s purview. However, the fact that Cuban’s pharmacy is committing to only a 15% markup — as opposed to big-name pharmacies, which will charge whatever they can get — could force a change in the industry overall.
The pharmacy is able to keep its prescription costs competitive by negotiating directly with the manufacturers themselves, per CNBC, instead of with pharmacy benefit managers, who often charge high rebate prices for drug manufacturers. This way, the company can secure generic drugs for wholesale prices, and sell them to consumers for only a 15% markup (plus a $3 labor charge and $5 shipping fee). However, this means the company doesn’t accept insurance, as insurance companies don’t usually work with pharmacies that avoid pharmacy benefit managers. Still, even without using insurance, Cost Plus Drugs boasts significantly lower prices than traditional pharmacies.
High drug prices are a public health crisis.
The federal government is also moving toward making prescription treatments more affordable: on Aug. 16, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, legislation that will work to lower drug prices and cap out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 for Medicare enrollees, into law. However, Levitt notes that this kind of legislation is “long overdue,” and that 200 million privately insured people will still be vulnerable to high drug prices.
“The uninsured can probably benefit most from Cuban’s pharmacy,” Levitt says. “But even the insured can save money as well because their co-payments at a traditional pharmacy, maybe $20 or $30 for a 90-day supply, will often be higher than the out-of-pocket cost at CPD. Again, this is only for generic drugs.” In all, it’s a great way to save money on prescription costs. So, how can you start using Cost Plus Drugs for your medications? Here’s a simple step-by-step list to figure out what’s best for you.
Step 1: Check for your medication.
First, you’ll want to check if the pharmacy has the treatment you need by going through its list of available medications. While the pharmacy only has a select few medications available to customers as of August 2022, Cuban hopes to expand the company’s inventory as the business grows through a “word-of-mouth” advertising strategy.
Step 2: Sign up for an account.
If Cost Plus Drugs does carry your medication, you can sign up for an account on their website here. You’ll fill out forms detailing your contact information, delivery address, medical history, drug allergies, and more. This way, you’ll already be set up when it’s time to request your prescriptions from your health care provider.
Step 3: Talk to your doctor.
Once you sign up for a Cost Plus Drugs account, talk to your doctor to request your prescriptions through the pharmacy. To do this, you can download the prescriber cover letter on this page, or ask your doctor to write you a new prescription including all the following information on this page.
Step 4: Place your order.
Once your health care provider has sent your prescription information to Cost Plus Drugs’ website, you can now place your order through your account. Simply go to your cart, add your prescribed medications, and proceed to checkout – it’s really that easy.
Step 5: Wait for delivery.
After you’ve placed your order, all you have to do next is wait for it to be delivered. Cost Plus Drugs works with Truepill pharmacy to fill your prescriptions and have them delivered right to your doorstep.
The pharmacy may have the chance to fill important needs: Approximately 7% of adults in the United States can’t afford to pay for their prescribed medications, per a September 2021 West Health Policy Center (WHPC) and Gallup survey. In real numbers, that means around 18 million people don’t have the money to buy their own treatments – many of which are life-saving in nature. “It’s important for the public to understand that high drug prices are a public health crisis,” Levitt says. “About one in four Americans do not take their prescriptions as directed because of cost. Many people end up in the hospital, and some die as a result.”
Indeed, the consequences of not being able to afford much needed medications are as grave as anyone might expect. According to a November 2020 study from WHPC, researchers found that “more than 1.1 million Medicare patients could die over the next decade because they cannot afford to pay for their prescription medications.”
So, what’s the ultimate solution? According to Levitt, “the solution to high drug prices is for the government to negotiate prices with drug pharmaceutical companies, like they do in many other high-income countries.” While it’s unclear when the U.S. government will do that, one thing is certain: millions of Americans need help affording their prescription medications, any way they can.