What Happened to $4 Generics?

Tori Marsh
Tori Marsh, MPH, is on the Research Team at GoodRx, and is the resident expert on drug pricing and savings.
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For almost a decade, pharmacy chains nationwide have offered discount generics through membership programs. When the first generic program was created by Kmart, pharmacy chains like CVS and Kroger followed suit, offering a large number of medications at a discounted rate, or even for free. The programs were classic “loss leaders,” designed to bring foot traffic into stores, where people would then spend more money on other merchandise. For consumers, they were great ways to save on some – but not all – drugs.

But we rarely hear about these programs anymore.   

Recently, many pharmacies have discontinued their programs or reduced the number of medications included. We’ve seen pharmacists refuse to honor the prices listed on their membership program, and some pharmacies have made it more difficult to find program information – in some cases no longer featuring the program on their homepage. Why have these programs been discontinued?

Here’s the story.

Two years ago, prices for generic medications started to shoot up, and pharmacies began losing more money on these programs. CVS, a big player, opted to discontinue their savings program. After that, competing pharmacies no longer felt obliged to offer these savings, and many of them discontinued their programs or reduced the number of medications on their savings list.

It’s apparent that the landscape is changing, and $4 generics may be a thing of the past. So how do you continue to save at the pharmacy?

Pharmacy membership programs, also known as prescription savings clubs, offer customers discounts on generic medications, pet medications, and other select medical supplies and devices. Most of these programs require a membership and charge a fee, but some, like Walmart, don’t require registration. Additionally, patients with and without insurance coverage are eligible for these programs.

Even if you take only one generic medication, these programs may be a good way to save on your prescriptions.

Which programs are still active?

It’s not all bad news. Even though many pharmacies have discontinued their membership programs, some are still active, and one popular pharmacy, Publix, just created a new one.

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Other ways to save

Here are some other options to keep in mind:

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