During the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like everything found a way to exist in a no-contact, digital space, including healthcare. From telehealth to online pharmacies, it was now easier than ever to get medical care and advice from the comfort and safety of home.
Online pharmacies have existed since the 2000s, but have become increasingly popular due to not only the pandemic, but their convenience and often lower prices than brick-and-mortar pharmacies.
Pros and Cons of Online Pharmacies
Sure, they’re convenient. But will an online pharmacy work with your lifestyle? We take a deep dive into the pros and cons of online pharmacies.
Pros of Online Pharmacies
Considering moving your prescriptions to an online pharmacy? Pricing and home delivery are among the pros of using online pharmacies. Let’s take a look.
It’s Easy to Find the Best Deal
One of the biggest benefits of online pharmacies is that it’s easy to shop around. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the FDA), there are about 35,000 active online pharmacies.
With options from companies like Walgreens, Amazon, and Express Scripts, it’s easy to quickly check the prices and availability of your prescribed medications with only a few clicks. No more driving around from pharmacy to pharmacy to ask about cost and insurance policies.
Your Meds Could be Cheaper
Online pharmacies are sometimes cheaper than in-person pharmacies, too. This can be for a variety of reasons: no middleman shipping company to bring the pharmacy to the store, partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to lower costs, and ability to bring in a larger variety of generic prescriptions from providers across the country.
For example, the Cost Plus Drugs cuts out the middleman and is able to offer many commonly-used prescription drugs for often less than half the price of most in-store pharmacies; Prozac, which is normally about $23 for a 30-day prescription, is just $4 with Cost Plus Drugs.
Your Prescriptions are Delivered Directly to You
Online pharmacies also ship medication directly to your home (or wherever you’d like). Whether you’re busy with work, family, or hate running errands, online pharmacies give you back countless hours of your life by saving you multiple trips to the store each year. Many online pharmacies even have free shipping and free auto-refills with a script from your doctor.
Cons of Online Pharmacies
As great as online pharmacies can be, there are some drawbacks to going totally digital with your scripts. Here are a few of them.
You May Not Be Able To Consult With a Pharmacist
One drawback of using an online pharmacy is the inability to consult with someone about your medication in real time. Some online pharmacies offer live chats or the ability to call in to a trained pharmacy professional, but some do not. This means if you have a question about your prescription or medication, it can take longer to get answers than live at an in-store pharmacy.
Need a Name-Brand? A Generic Swap May be Harder to Rectify
Another issue with online pharmacies can be them swapping your brand-name medication for a generic one without you knowing. While this is a common practice for in-store pharmacies, too, it is easier to recognize and rectify, if you choose, while in-person at a brick-and-mortar shop. Waiting to receive your medication only to realize it is a generic version you may not want, then waiting even longer for an online pharmacy to correct the issue, can be irritating and even put your health and medication schedule at risk.
You May Need a Specific Insurance
Some online pharmacies like Express Scripts require you to have insurance coverage that partners with them in order for you to use Express Scripts’ online pharmacy. There are many reputable online pharmacies that don’t have this prerequisite, but it can be frustrating to find your medication for a low cost at an online pharmacy, only to find out that you need certain insurance to place the order.
Not All Online Pharmacies are Created Equal
While there may be 35,000 online pharmacies in existence, the FDA said in that same article that only about 5% of those 35,000 online pharmacies have completed all their paperwork to prove their legitimacy and good legal standing. This doesn’t mean that the rest are nefarious money-stealers, but it does mean that it’s best to stick to well-known online pharmacies and not venture too deep into recesses of the Web to fill your prescription.
Online Pharmacy Comparison
Which pharmacies take insurance? Which offer free shipping? Can experts help me navigate my prescriptions?
Here’s a look at six of the most popular online pharmacies and their offerings.
About: Amazon Pharmacy is just that – the online pharmacy brand of mega online retailer Amazon. Amazon Pharmacy takes the stress out of figuring out prescriptions; they handle transferring your prescription from your existing pharmacy to Amazon Pharmacy, and they will give you advance notice about when it’s time to refill or renew your prescription.
Membership fee: No membership fee, but there are added benefits to using Amazon Pharmacy if you are an Amazon Prime member
Insurance: Takes most insurance and also offers Amazon Pharmacy coupons.
Shipping: Offers free delivery and free two-day delivery for Amazon Prime members
Experts Available: Amazon Pharmacy does offer assistance via the Amazon Clinic, but this is an additional service and is not free.
Cost Plus Drugs
About: Serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban founded Cost Plus Drugs in 2022 in response to his dislike for high markups on commonly-prescribed drugs for diabetes, mental health, and heart conditions. Cost Plus Drugs online pharmacy is transparent about its pricing and uses the following model: wholesale price + 15% markup + $3 pharmacy fee + $5 shipping charge. Cost Plus Drugs partners with TruePill to fill all medications.
Membership Fee: No membership fee
Insurance: Does not take insurance
Shipping: Standard shipping to the U.S. is about five dollars and expedited shipping can range from $25 to much higher. If you have insurance, you may be able to submit the shipping and medication costs as a claim.
Experts Available: Cost Plus Drugs does not offer experts to meet with to discuss your prescription.
About: SelectRx is geared towards helping those who take multiple prescription medications manage all those prescriptions. This is especially useful for those who may fill their multiple scripts at different pharmacies to save money. SelectRx will even sync your prescriptions to be delivered at the same time in a personalized “medication packet.”
Membership Fee: No membership fee
Insurance: Yes, SelectRx takes insurance and will help coordinate prescription refills with your provider and insurance company.
Shipping: SelectRx offers free shipping.
Experts Available: SelectRx does not have medical experts available to chat with, but they do offer consultants who will work with your doctors and insurance for you so you no longer have to sit on the phone with multiple providers and insurance reps.
About: HelloWisp is an online pharmacy that focuses exclusively on reproductive health for both men and women. It is a one-stop shop for diagnosing symptoms, getting a prescription for the ailment, and having it shipped in a discreet package to your home.
Membership Fee: There is no “membership” fee for HelloWisp, but if your condition is chronic, you will be billed monthly for treatment and prescriptions provided by HelloWisp. This ranges from $15 to upwards of $60.
Insurance: You do not need insurance to use HelloWisp, but if you choose to use your insurance, you will need to pick up the prescription at an in-store pharmacy. HelloWisp does not accept insurance for online consultations with a medical provider.
Shipping: HelloWisp offers free shipping to all 50 U.S. states.
Experts Available: Yes, HelloWisp has users fill out a private health form which is then reviewed by HelloWisp clinicians. The clinician either discusses your situation further with you or provides you with a prescription immediately.
Description: Express Scripts is one of the largest online pharmacies in existence. They partner with more than 70,000 online pharmacy partners to bring their users the lowest possible prices on medications.
Membership Fee: There is no membership fee, but in order for you to use Express Scripts, it must be included in your insurance benefits. You can see if your benefits include the Express Scripts online pharmacy here.
Insurance: Express Scripts requires that you have insurance and that your insurance includes a partnership with them in order for you to use Express Scripts’ online pharmacy.
Shipping: Standard shipping is free with Express Scripts. If you need your medication sooner, you will need to foot the bill for expedited shipping.
Experts Available: The Express Scripts online pharmacy has more than 1,000 pharmacists available 24/7 for you to discuss benefits or medication with – all online.
Description: Honeybee Health was founded by two board-certified pharmacists who owned a small pharmacy in California and were saddened that so many of their customers could not afford their medications. Honeybee Health allows users to compare the prices of multiple pharmaceutical manufacturers – without the markup of insurance – to find the price that fits the user’s budget.
Membership Fee: Honeybee Health does not have a membership fee.
Insurance: Honeybee Health does not accept insurance.
Shipping: Honeybee Health offers free shipping on all orders within the U.S. via the United States Postal Service (USPS).
Experts Available: There are no experts such as doctors or pharmacists to speak with via Honeybee Health.
Colorado-based writer Kristin Jenny focuses on lifestyle and wellness. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.