On January 19, celebrity billionaire Mark Cuban’s cost-plus, cash-pay pharmacy, the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, opened for business. While Cuban and his business partners clearly have larger goals for MCCPDC, they’ve started with a patient-facing digital pharmacy similar to many other digital pharmacies, like Ro Pharmacy, GeniusRx, and Healthwarehouse.com:
- Patients don’t need to sign up for a membership.
- Patients cannot use their insurance. Prescriptions are paid for out of pocket (“cash-pay”).
- Providers can e-prescribe directly to the pharmacy.
- Medications are dispensed by pharmacies that are not open to the public, but patients can call to speak to a pharmacist.
- Medications are shipped directly to the patient via USPS and other ground carriers. As a result, temperature-sensitive medications like insulin and controlled substances like ADHD medications are not available.
Two major differences between MCCPDC and their competitors:
- MCCPDC is dedicated to “cutting out the middleman” and “cost-plus” pricing. All drugs will be priced according to a simple equation: “manufacturer’s price” + 15% markup + $3 pharmacy dispensing fee per drug, per order. Since pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are not involved, prices are lower than at other pharmacies.
- Shipping is not free. The pharmacy’s FAQs state that shipping costs can vary, but standard shipping is usually $5 and expedited is typically $15.
- The pharmacy’s drug list is somewhat random, focusing on drugs that “we can offer at a price that is lower than what is out there already,” as Cuban said in an interview with TechCrunch. As a result, patients may find that not all of their medications are available; other patients whose drugs are very expensive elsewhere might find an amazing price.
Saving Money Is Great…
Even though pharmaceutical manufacturers’ prices have technically been fairly stagnant in the past few years, patients continue to feel the pinch of high prices. After all, the cost of prescriptions is affected by a lot of factors over which patients have zero control. Plus, as the cost of other essentials goes up, medications can fall by the wayside. If the choice is between buying food for your children or refilling your high blood pressure medication, what would you choose?
For that reason alone, we can applaud MCCPDC for easing the burden on some patients. Since MCCPDC opened for business, Cuban’s social media has been a flood of thankful patients. Cost-plus pricing can certainly drive down prices on expensive meds.
That said, other pharmacies may be using a similar tactic in order to offer low prices. They just aren’t marketing themselves as “cost-plus” stores. For example, let’s look at sertraline (generic Zoloft) 25mg tablets.
- At Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, a 30-day fill would be $4.20. Of course, it would need to be shipped, so let’s add $5 for standard shipping. $9.20 is still a good price.
- Ro Pharmacy comes in a little higher, with a 30-day supply for $9.60. Shipping is free.
- Blueberry Pharmacy, a cost-plus Pittsburgh brick-and-mortar pharmacy that ships nationwide, has a 30-day fill for $10.98. But patients who sign up for a Blueberry Pharmacy membership can get the same prescription for only $3.98. Since the membership is $5 a month, we can say that a patient who only needs sertraline would pay $8.98 total.
- GeniusRx is the cheapest option we found, at just $2.70. Standard shipping is free, but even with an extra $5 for expedited shipping, the total comes to only $7.70.
In short, Mark Cuban’s store has some great deals, but it’s not necessarily the best in the business for all drugs across the board.
…But Do Your Homework
Cash-pay digital pharmacies aren’t revolutionary. Don’t get us wrong, they have been useful to thousands of patients throughout the pandemic. Many of them combine telehealth, pharmacy services, and home delivery, ensuring that patients get care when they need it and start the medications their doctors have prescribed. They’re also perfect for patients without drug coverage or without any health insurance at all.
But here’s the thing: patients can pay out of pocket at any pharmacy. Last year, The Beat covered the pros and cons of paying out of pocket for your prescriptions. In many cases, it can be a life-saver. But one thing bears repeating: paying cash isn’t always cheaper for the patient, and cash prices vary between pharmacies. As seen above, one cash-pay digital pharmacy can be substantially cheaper than another. Even one cost-plus pharmacy can be cheaper than another.
Take a moment to do your research before switching.
- Who is actually dispensing the medication? Is that company accredited through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy?
- Is delivery free? If so, how long will it take to get your medications?
- Is it easy to contact a pharmacist? If you frequently need a pharmacist’s assistance, will you be able to speak to the same pharmacist every time?
- If needed, does the pharmacy offer adherence packaging or medication synchronization?
- And perhaps most importantly, are all your medications available from this pharmacy?
If only some of your medications are available, you’ll invariably need to use multiple pharmacies to obtain your prescriptions. Since pharmacies cannot share your information with each other, you have to take the initiative to ask whether drugs obtained from Pharmacy A could interact with drugs from Pharmacy B, and vice versa.
In addition, keep in mind that many of the conveniences that cash-pay digital pharmacies offer are available elsewhere. If you love your local pharmacy but want home delivery, ask your pharmacy whether they offer on-demand, same-day, or shipping delivery. If not, tell them to reach out to ScriptDrop!
The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company isn’t really disrupting the industry. By creating his own pharmacy benefit manager, his own digital pharmacy, and his own generic drug manufacturing facility, it seems like Mark Cuban is literally reinventing the wheel. While offering lower prices and drawing attention to spread pricing by PBMs is certainly a valuable act, Cuban isn’t fixing the problem of high drug prices.
Of course, to be fair, improving American healthcare in any way is a tall order, requiring a deep commitment to working with the healthcare industry, patient advocates, and the federal government, for a start. It would take a lot of money and clout.
Nevertheless, we’re always happy to see patients get the medications they need, when and where they need them. We hope MCCPDC expands to include other much-needed medications and help more Americans stay healthy.