Generic drugs now account for well over 80% of all prescriptions. Just 10 years ago, less than half of drugs sold were generics.

Much of the growth is because employers make generics extra-affordable through mail order programs (pharmacy benefits managers). Then you also have the grocery stores and big box retailers who do $4 generics. Meanwhile, a lot of breakthrough drugs that were patent protected are no longer so and are now selling as generics.

But are there ever instances where taking a generic is not a good idea?

Understanding how pharmaceuticals are graded

Drugs have different grades to gauge what's called their "bioavailability" -- how fast they get into your blood -- according to The Wall Street Journal. Pharmacists should routinely know about these ratings.

Generic drugs with an A rating means they are the exact equivalent of brand-name drugs. Yet a generic with a B rating indicates the drug is absored either faster or slower into the bloodstream vs. the original brand-name script.

So the Wall Street Journal recommends that upon first filling a generic prescription, you ask the pharmacist about the rating. An A-rated generic equivalent is fine. But if it's a B-rated equivalent, have the pharmacist check with your doctor to make sure the substitution is OK. Often it will be. But better safe than sorry!


What you don't know about the pricing of generics can hurt your wallet

To return for a second to the discussion of price, the big pharmacy chains will typically discount generics by 30% from the brand name price. So let's say the brand name is $100 dollars. The generic at CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens will be $70.

On the other hand, if you go to Walmart or Target, you can likely get that generic prescription filled for $4. And if you go to Costco, prescriptions are marked up 14% over cost. So if they buy that drug for $1, you will fill it for $1.14 while it could be $70 elsewhere!

Be sure when you go to your doctor to bring a list of the cheap $4 prescriptions. One regional grocer, Publix, even offers free antibiotics!

Warehouse clubs offer cheap prescriptions to non-members

A recent report from The Florida Sun Sentinel finds the price of a prescription can vary by as much as $170 for a 30-day supply.

A reporter named Doreen Christensen called around to price a Lexapro prescription at a variety of retailers. Here's what she found:  "Costco $6.99; CVS $114.99; Publix $118; Sam’s Club $83; Target  $147.99; Walgreens $116.99; Walmart  $115.88 and Winn-Dixie $179.99."

The beauty of Costco is you don't need to be a member to use their pharmacy. Simply show up and explain you want a prescription filled. Many Costcos have a separate entrance for their pharmacies to accommodate walk-in non-members.

ARTICLE: Free app helps shop the lowest prescription prices

Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust. View More Articles

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