Medically Approved

2016 prescription prices and purchase trends

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Optum Perks Author

By Optum Perks Author

The cost of prescription drugs have been an issue that has plagued millions of American patients for years. And the situation appears to only be getting worse. Recent studies reveal that drug prices have risen by an average of 10% over the past year. And many large pharmaceutical companies plan to continue to increase the prices of prescriptions, even in lieu of having received pushback from health insurers, scrutiny by U.S. lawmakers, and anxiety about rising prescription drug spending from the masses.

For many, prescription drugs are not an optional expenditure. Statistics show that as many as 60 percent of American adults take some variety of pharmaceutical medications as part of their daily routine. And 15 percent rely on five or more scripts to help them manage a variety of ailments like hypertension, heart conditions, diabetes, and gastroesophageal reflux. Among most commonly prescribed drugs are antibiotics, antidepressants, and painkiller opioids.

The most popular consumer drug purchases of 2016

If you have noticed a spike in your insurance premium over the past few years, you are not alone. That has become a pretty standard occurrence across the healthcare industry. And with the increase cost of monthly expenses, comes the spike in prescription drug spending. A March 2016 report revealed that US residents paid an estimated $457 billion on drugs last year, which equates to 16.7% of all health care service expenditures. And since co-pays have risen and high deductibles have become the norm, it is becoming increasingly common for patients to pay out of pocket for prescription drugs. In fact, more Americans are doing this than ever before. Other leading factors in why consumers are purchasing scripts off insurance are that many insurance plans only cover a one-time refill for specific medications and sometimes a drug may end up costing a user less if it is purchased out of pocket – for instance, the cost of a generic prescription out of pocket may be significantly less to a consumer than paying the co-pay for a name brand script.


We took a look at drug claims between 2015 and 2016 and based on a sample of claim data from pharmacies nationwide, compiled a list of the top drug purchases that consumers paid for last year. Per our 2015-2016 data, the top 5 prescription drugs that American patients purchased were: Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen, Lisinopril, levothyroxine, amlodipine, and metformin.

Here is the full list of the top 15 most frequently filled prescription drugs of the last year:

Popularity Drug Brand

As you can see on the list above, the medications most commonly purchased off insurance include those used to manage pain, blood pressure, thyroid levels, diabetes, anxiety, and a variety of bacterial infections.

2016 drug prices ranked by state

Prescription drugs account for an estimated 10 percent of overall health spending in the United States. It’s an industry that totals to around $263 billion annually. It has been noted that Americans pay more for drugs than anywhere else in the world and the prices of prescription drugs can vary drastically from state to state. This happens for a variety of reasons, many of which have to do with an individual state’s official drug monitoring programs.


Optum Perks compiled the following information on the average costs of prescription drugs by state and found that Mississippi tops the list as the US state with the lowest average per script cost ($12.82). Others that ranked in with lower cost prescription drug prices include Arkansas ($12.93), Virginia ($13.09), and Louisiana ($13.10).

States with the lowest drug costs

Top 10 Cheapest States
Rank State  Per Script
1 MS  $12.82
2 AR  $12.93
3 VA  $13.09
4 LA  $13.10
5 GA  $13.20
6 NH  $13.22
7 IA  $13.59
8 TX  $13.65
9 NC  $13.65
10 KY  $13.79



Ranking in at $19.47 per script, Hawaii tops the list of the state with the most expensive prescription rate. It is followed by North Dakota ($19.07), Alaska ($18.96), and Delaware ($18.51).

States with the highest drug costs  

Top 10 Most Expensive States
Rank State  Per Script
1 HI  $19.47
2 ND  $19.07
3 AK  $18.96
4 DE  $18.51
5 MI  $18.09
6 CA  $17.83
7 FL  $17.43
8 OK  $16.74
9 NV  $16.67
10 NJ  $16.41


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Average drug prices of popular pharmacy chains

Not only does the cost of drugs vary from state to state, but it also varies according to what pharmacy that you purchase your prescription from. Key factors that contribute to price differences amongst popular pharmacy chains include: the company’s overhead costs, profit margins, and the costs to obtain prescription drugs from manufacturers or wholesalers.


Many drug users don’t realize that they can lower their drug spending if they shop around. In fact, a recent poll showed that only 17 percent of people comparison shop to see where they could get a better deal on their drugs and instead simply fork out the prices that they are quoted at their local pharmacy register. But purchasing from one pharmacy over the other can make a massive difference in what you are paying to fill your scripts. Consumer Reports illustrates this fact by providing the following demonstration in a recent article about pharmaceutical drugs spending:

Metformin—used to treat type 2 diabetes—sells for just $4 for a month’s supply, or $10 for a three-month supply, at stores such as Target and Wal-Mart, while a co-pay for a month’s worth averages about $11.

In order to provide consumers with a list of which pharmacies offer the best deals on drugs, we scoured through our databases and pulled together the average drug prices for each of the most popular chains. Wal-Mart was the clear winner as the cheapest pharmacy, with their average price per drug coming in at $11.57. Trailing behind them by a difference of $2.08 is Target. And the most expensive pharmacy chains to purchase prescription drugs at are CVS at an average cost of $20.09 per drug and Walgreens, which charges an average of $20.69.

Here is the full list:

Cheapest to Most Expensive Pharmacy Chains
Rank Pharmacy Chain Group  Per Drug
1 WALMART  $11.57
2 TARGET  $13.65
3 Other  $15.35
4 RITE AID  $18.86
5 CVS  $20.09
6 WALGREENS  $20.69



According to our research, consumers purchase the largest amount of their pharmaceutical drugs during Q4, so throughout the months of October, November and December. And between Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas, this is also the time of the year when spending is at an all time high.


Consumer drug purchasing habits continue to shift as each year goes by. 2017 predictions include higher script prices, increased health insurance premiums, and a continued growth in the number of Americans that make prescription drugs a part of their daily routines. And these drugs are only slated to become more expensive. A recent study revealed that one third of Americans have personally been quoted higher prices than ever for their prescription drugs. And one-in-six Americans have actually admitted to opting to forgo getting their prescriptions filled due to the increased costs.

“Consumers aren’t used to questioning prices for pharmaceutical drugs—nor are they used to shopping around and haggling. But they could save themselves a lot of money if they do,” explains Lisa Gill, deputy editor CR Best Buy Drugs.

For this reason, it can greatly benefit consumers to arm themselves with certain statistics on factors such as which pharmacies offer better deals for purchasing prescriptions directly than others and the average prices of common prescriptions purchased off insurance. In addition, using a service like Optum Perks can show where they can find the best prices on prescription drugs throughout their geographic area.