Many people expressed surprise that drug retailer CVS is a participant in our Worst Company in America tournament. In addition to the everyday issues that a pharmacy/drugstore creates for consumers, though, CVS also owns prescription benefits administrator Caremark. Brandon is a Caremark customer who takes a venerable but still useful medication called Synthroid. He recently ran into a weird situation with his refill, where he was switched to the name-brand medication for no discernible reason. Twice.
For more than a year I have been using CVS Caremark to renew my prescriptions. I take a thyroid medication called Synthroid (name brand), but this product has a generic. A little research finds that the generic of this product is called Levothyroxine. Ordering a 90 day supply of Levothyroxine is less than half the cost of a 90 day supply of Synthroid. So I manually place my order for the generic. When it comes time to renew, I get an e-mail from CVS Caremark telling me it’s time to do so. When I go to their website and click on the renew prescriptions link, it has changed me to the more expensive name brand Synthroid. It would appear to me that CVS Caremark is banking on the hope that customers won’t pay attention to the different product and pay the higher price compulsively because at that point it’s a simple matter of checking a box and clicking renew. The only way for me to work around this is to set it up as a “new prescription” using the generic name. But in 90 days the exact thing happens, I’m directed to renew the name brand.
Now this instance is a strange anomaly for sure. Because I have another prescription that I order by it’s generic name, and it does not default to the higher priced name brand. And this makes me wonder if there is a percentage at which point the website elects to stop trying to rip off the customer. Meaning that the price difference would be so obvious that more people would notice it. In the case of this prescription, the difference in cost would be about $80 for a 90 day supply. Whereas with the Synthroid, the difference between the generic and name brand is $20-$25.
And what’s even more strange is that when I do receive the prescription that I ordered as “Levothyroxine”, the bottle actually says Synthroid on it. So effectively I have ordered the generic and received the brand name for the same cost as the generic. Is that considered a win for the consumer? Or is it that Synthroid is equally cheap for CVS to buy that they can sell it to those buying generic and still pull a profit? That seems to make the most sense to me, and in which case, those conned into actually paying the full priced for the name brand are being severely ripped off! It also begs the question, how many other customers are being duped into renewing name brands when they have previously ordered generics? Caremark also has an “auto-renew” option which would order your prescriptions totally automatically, I have never set this up, but this also makes me wonder if the auto-renew defaults to the high priced prescriptions after the initial order is placed. The potential to rake in millions with this deception definitely exists, and I hope Caremark customers are paying close attention.