Mail-Order Pharmacies: Better Than Walk-In Drugstores?

Mail order pharmacies can fill your drug prescriptions online and ship medications directly to your home. Operating through health insurance companies, mail order drug programs may have advantages over filling prescriptions in walk-in drugstores. However, whether you can benefit from the mail order service depends on your health plan, particular medication you need, as well as personal preferences. This article ponders on benefits and drawbacks of mail order drugs, explains how the service works and when you can financially benefit from it.

Pros of mail order drug programs

Saving money. Insurance companies like Medicare offer significant discounts for mail order drugs, especially generic drugs people take for diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases. In this case, co-payment can amount to several dollars for a 3-month drug supply. The savings from using a program supported by can amount to several hundreds US dollars a month for an average drug shopper.

Saving time. Most mail order pharmacies can provide you with 3-month drug supply instead of 1-month supply in a retail pharmacy. By filling the order form once, you save time you would else waste by dropping off and picking up drugs in walk-in drugstore.

Convenience. Fill your prescriptions online, by phone or mail. Pharmacies like NowRx and Humana offer mobile apps that automatize the whole process and can be used 24/7.

These special services may be available at particular mail order pharmacies:

  • Automatic refill reminders. Never forget to fill your prescriptions by setting up a reminder. This service may operate via app, phone or email depending on your healthcare provider.
  • Consulting a pharmacist. Contact the company’s pharmacist directly to get necessary information on drugs and treatment.
  • Order tracking. Most pharmacies can provide exact information on your order progress via preferred communication channel.
  • Detailed order history via website/mobile app.
  • Same day delivery, etc.


Communication errors. Even working with a reputable pharmacy does not exclude the possibility of mistakes/communication errors, such as shipping the wrong medicines or wrong quantities, delaying the delivery of orders and other problems. Buying drugs from a retail pharmacy does not involve such risks as the consumer checks the package right away.

Mail delivery issues. It is possible that the parcel will be lost, damaged or stolen. Although the company would compensate expenses, the time required to resend the parcel can have significance for those depending on lifesaving medicines.

Slow delivery. Although some companies offer same-day delivery, others require about 2 weeks until the recipient can get the order. Careful monitoring of your drug stock is necessary to avoid trouble with medicine supplies. Alternatively, set an automated refill reminder offered by most services.

No face-to-face communication. In-person communication with a pharmacist can be a source of useful information about medicines and disease treatment. Not being comfortable with the lack of personal communication with a pharmacist, you may opt for traditional methods of acquiring prescription medication.

Starting your mail order program

Since mail order programs operate within the frame of health plans, using this service requires a suitable plan that covers drug costs. Health plans work with third-party organizations, the so-called pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which strive to provide medicines at low prices, i.e. by negotiating discounts from pharmacies. These intermediary companies help about 270 million Americans who have insurance from a range of health plans: commercial, self-insured, government-funded, etc.

To start using the service, in most cases you have to simply fill out the form and send it to a specified address. Information about the service can be found on your health plan website or in the booklet. For additional information on mail order drugs, contact you insurance company or healthcare agent. At some companies, starting using mail order programs is really simple: as the process is highly automated, you don’t even have to send the prescription to the pharmacy.

It is important not to confuse mail order pharmacies with conventional online drugstores: their only common feature is delivering drugs by mail service. However, with the first, drug costs are partially or fully covered by your health plan, while low prices and high drug quality is insured by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). In the latter, you make a regular online purchase, although significant discounts may be provided by the pharmacy as well.

Mail order drugs with health insurance

Although ordering drugs by mail may be more convenient, this option isn’t necessarily more cost effective. Contact your healthcare agent to learn whether there are benefits for those choosing mail orders instead of filling prescriptions at a local pharmacy.

Some health plans require 1–2 co-payments instead of 3 when ordering 3-month drug supply. However, retail drugstores may also charge less for larger amounts of drugs, so inquiry and comparison would be the best choice to discover the most cost-effective option.

At a walk-in pharmacy, a co-payment for hypertension drug Diovan may be $25 for a 1-month supply. To compare, a 3-month supply delivered by your health plan’s pharmacy may cost you only $50. On the other hand, buying some generic medications from large chain pharmacies such as Walmart may be more cost-effective than co-pays with your current health plan. For example, high cholesterol drug Zocor costs around 10 dollars for a 3-month supply at Walmart, while co-pays amount to 15 dollars for the same amount.

Mail order with Medicare plans

All Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans offer mail order service, which mostly allows to save some money on prescription drugs. The service is operated by AllianceRx Walgreens Prime and Express Scripts PBM, two companies to choose from. In both ways, you can a get a maximum of 90-day drug supply with free shipment.

If reaching the coverage gap, you may continue to order medication through these services as usual with full payment, or choose other low-cost options by shopping in chain pharmacies and online stores which provide order shipping.

Mail order drugs with no insurance

As mentioned earlier, prices for some drugs may be very reasonable at stores like Hy-Vee, Target and Walmart, which don’t require a health plan or insurance. On the website, you’ll find an impressive list of prescription drugs costing $4 for 30 and $10 for 90-day supply. It includes cholesterol and diabetes drugs, blood pressure and heart medications, vitamins, antidepressants and other drug categories. In other words, by simply ordering medications through the pharmacies’ website you pay less than with insurance coverage. Find out if there are generic versions of your prescribed medicine and whether it can be purchased in large chain pharmacies with mail delivery service.

For AARP members, there is a prescription drug plan serviced by OptumRx, which offers mail delivery, Medication Reminders, as well as convenient tools for drug search, comparison and management.

Other low-cost mail order pharmacies include Xubex and RxOutreach, patient assistance programs which provide discounted generic drugs at prices ranging from $5 to $95. While RxOutreach has specific income requirements (monthly income of less than $4000), Xubex has no income guidelines.

Precautions when using mail order pharmacies

  • You may ask your doctor to fill a second prescription if planning to use a mail order pharmacy with slow delivery. Thus, you will be able to fill your first prescription at the local pharmacy while waiting for the order.
  • Inform you mail order pharmacist if you take drugs bought outside your health plan. This will prevent possible harmful drug interactions from taking incompatible medications.
Mail-Order Pharmacies: Better Than Walk-In Drugstores?

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