By Joel Hutton and Research Staff
News staffers tend to be curious folk, so just about anything running poorly sends them into a tizzy of fact-gathering and writing. Two of our editors recently shared tales of awful pharmacy experiences at the Corvallis Rite-Aid; they glanced at one of their reporters, already plugging the assignment into his trusty calendar app. The outcome will not be shocking for the many that have already fled Rite-Aid, but just how bad things are there surprised us.
For instance, personnel at other pharmacies knew there were problems at the Rite-Aid; they have apparently been receiving their refugees for some weeks now. Informally speaking with Rite-Aid clerks, we also learned that the store itself knows their pharmacy operation is troubled. Beyond the evaporation of the most basic customer service, there have been delays in needed medications. In one instance related to us, these delays affected a family with a small child just discharged from the hospital.
So, What’s a Pharmacy Consumer to Do?
We price-checked area pharmacies by phone and noted each store’s customer service performance; some results were decidedly clear and some less so. For instance, the pharmacy with a good deal on one medication may not be so great on another—but more on that in a moment.
What is clear is that most of the pharmacies we spoke with required less than a four-minute time commitment to get all the info we needed, some only two minutes. In almost all instances, it paid to skip the phone tree and dial zero to speed up the process. Conversely, Rite-Aid required nearly 15 minutes, and they were rude. One staffer’s notes even used the term “clueless.”
We chose one medication to check at every pharmacy: used commonly for asthma, a Pro-Air 200 dose inhaler at 90 mcg strength. The lowest price was at Safeway for $53.49, but their phone handling, while quick, was not confidence-inspiring. Corvallis Clinic: $54.58 with quick, competent phone handling. Third place price-wise was Walmart at $57.62, but they had the friendliest and quickest phone handling. Worst was Rite-Aid at $73, and their phone service was, as aforementioned, abysmal.
All this said, Bi-Mart stood alone with its willingness to match prices with any other brick-and-mortar in town; their phone handling and price quotes were midrange. The few other pharmacies that said they would price match also qualified the claim with the near-meaningless caveat that it depends on the medication and price difference. Notably, a price match is an extra step if you are in a hurry, but this can be useful for regularly used medications.
The wins here go to Bi-Mart, Walmart, Corvallis Clinic, and Safeway.
Caveats and the Locally Owned
Corvallis Clinic and Samaritan are both locally owned. But Rice’s is the only locally owned general pharmacy that is also independent, and depending on your insurance, their phone handling is solid and they are worth a call. Which brings up some important points. We only compared prices for one prescription at all the pharmacies, and then assuming no insurance. There is heavy variability depending on what you need and what insurance you have—it can pay to shop around.
For instance, we compared generic Levothyroxine at just a few places, a common prescription for hypothyroidism that until recently was downright cheap, often available on the $4 list for stores that offer such a thing. The aforementioned Safeway with the lowest Pro-Air price was actually the highest for Levothyroxine at $32.99, while Walmart is the only store to still offer it at $4.
Major takeaways here: Rite-Aid refugees have plenty of options. Most of the pharmacies had far better customer service, and price-shopping the more expensive stuff can save you money. The fairness of some stuff being so expensive—well, that is another story. Attempts to reach the Corvallis Rite-Aid Pharmacy manager were unsuccessful.