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Mail-Order Drugs Were Supposed to Keep Costs Down. It’s Doing the Opposite.

One employer was paying about $100 for a prescription for a generic antidepressant, though it could be bought elsewhere for about $12

A key tool that businesses have counted on to keep a lid on employees’ drug spending—filling workers’ prescriptions by mail—is now driving up their costs. 

Unity Care NW, a nonprofit health clinic in Washington state, forecasts the cost of medical and drug benefits for its 365 employees and their family members will increase this year by 25% to more than $3 million. A big reason: Drugs delivered by mail are costing multiples more than those picked up at a store counter.

Markups were as much as 35 times higher than what other pharmacies charged, according to a recent analysis of millions of prescriptions in Washington state.

“It’s absolutely not fair, and it’s not saving us money,” said Lisa Nelson, Unity Care’s chief pharmacy officer.


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