Free Prescriptions, but at What Cost?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

In October 2006, Meijer Inc, a supermarket chain in the Midwest, initiated a trend of offering free antibiotics to its customers whose doctors had prescribed these medications. This trend has been slowly spreading across the nation as grocery stores vie for customers in response to Wal-mart and Targetís introduction of the $4 generic prescription program. Seventeen months ago Publix Super Markets in Florida followed Meijerís footsteps and started giving away many commonly prescribed antibiotics to those with prescriptions.

So what is so wrong with these programs?

With health care costs rising at an alarming rate, one would think this new movement would be a blessing, especially for those on a fixed income or those who would otherwise go without due to a lack of money.

However, many consumer groups and physicians are starting to take notice of such tactics and believe these "giveaway" programs may actually encourage patients who would not normally demand a prescription from their doctor because of cost, to do so now. There is also a concern that because of these no-cost programs, many patients may resort to stockpiling prescriptions, therefore leading to a potential antibiotic shortage down the road.

As Dr. John Santa points out in his blog at Consumer, one begins to wonder why the pharmacies are offering antibiotics and not other prescriptions that would help health care issues such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Is this truly in the best interest of the general public, or is this a sales tactic to get consumers shopping at these pharmacies? And it leaves some speculation as to whether these pharmacies raise the rates for other prescriptions to cover the cost of these programs.

Without a doubt there are illnesses, such as strep throat, that require antibiotic treatment. But as many illnesses are caused by viruses, antibiotics will do nothing to speed the recovery process. Prescribing antibiotics to patients who do not need them only facilitates the rise of the super infections, such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and Clostridium difficile.

Many years ago I worked as a phone triage nurse for a several pediatricians. I canít begin to tell you the number of calls I would receive from the parent who brought their child in a few days earlier only to leave the office without a prescription. Regardless of the advice I offered, it was not what the parent wanted to hear. As a result, I would pass the information on to the physicians about the patientís lack of progress, and more times than not the physicians would cave and have me call in a prescription, even though it went against their better judgment.

Certainly this issue is up for debate. While I can see many of the benefits of such programs, I believe that educating the public about the dangers of giving antibiotics when not necessary is a far healthier approach. Physicians and other health care providers must stress that antibiotics do nothing to speed recovery from colds and viruses; therefore, we must allow our bodies to build natural defenses to fend off these illnesses, so that when we do need the antibiotics the bacteria hasnít mutated into the super infections we all fear.

What if you could walk into any grocery store pharmacy with a prescription in hand from your health care provider and receive a free 10 day supply of the generic antibiotic? Would you be more willing to shop at these stores, or would you question the motives behind such an offer? Do you think this is a good idea or bad idea?

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  • 163
    I take advantage of the free metformin at Meijer... saves me a few bucks every month. - 5/27/2017   5:08:17 PM
    I get all my antibiotics from fish supply stores or from Natures Farmacy (they usually have a booth at dog shows). I can buy 100 tablets of Metro (flagyl 500mg) Cephelexin 250mgs, Cypro 500mgs, Amoxicillin 500mgs, Amplicillin 250mgs for as low as $12 and up. All are human grade, and do not require a prescription. I have never had a problem with using them in 23 years for either myself on occasion or my dogs, and have cut out the middleman by dealing with veterinary suppliers. If you are uninsured, and do not have the money to see a physician then this is the best alternative for kicking out a bacterial upper respiratory or other bacterial infections. - 8/4/2013   1:38:28 PM
  • 161
    I think this is good for the poor but really bad as many doctors automatically prescibe antibotics whether necessary or not just to quiet the parents and children. That has really lead to our restitant infections. I think more people need to see if it is really necessary to see a doctor in the first place and wait it out if the doctor has to do a culture to know what the person really needs. - 6/9/2011   1:36:17 AM
  • 160
    @Becky!, post #159...the blog does NOT say that antibiotics can be had without a prescription. The patient has to have a prescription. The problem is that doctors are giving prescriptions to people who don't need them, simply because patients expect to leave the doctor's office with a prescription in hand and will complain if they don't. - 3/6/2011   10:47:30 AM
  • 159
    No, I do not think free antibiotics without a prescription are a good idea. Individuals including me do not know whether an antibiotic is needed. I am a medical assistant. As a medical assistant, we learn that we do not have the ability to diagnose. Only doctors have the ability to diagnose. Knowing that I would only get a antibiotic prescription from a doctor. - 1/9/2011   11:57:07 AM
  • 158
    antibotics without a need for them is wrong. But the 4 dollars on scrips are a blessing to me if it was not for that I would not be able to afford my medications that part is good. Don''t rain on that part of it. On the top tare of meds it much, much ,much higher - 1/8/2011   10:55:54 PM
  • 157
    I would expect that doctors have a little more backbone and not prescribe unnecessary and useless antiobiotics just because the patient wants them. After all, who is the doctor in this relationship? - 1/8/2011   5:49:36 PM
  • 156
    Having lived only on SS for awhile now, I would welcome such a wonderful gift, and you bet I would shop at that store. Why wouldn't you? - 1/8/2011   3:15:32 PM
  • 155
    Coming from acountry where the have the National Health Service, we still had to pay a small amount for prescriptions. (cant remember how much, I left 7 years ago) And those of us who were working also paid National Insurance contributions. Of course the system was abused, but it did help those who were really needing it. I agree with others, it is the doctors who are writing the prescriptions who are at fault. Now living in the USA, the cost of medications is ridiculous, how do they expect people to pay out this kind of money? I can understand people going for the free meds. - 3/31/2010   5:23:03 PM
  • 154
    IN Au the government subsidizes meds. As a low income earner I do get reduced meds $5.30 per script. It does make a big difference. I have often not had a script filled because of costs. However I do believe some contribution towards costs reduces abuse and over use. - 1/30/2010   5:33:20 PM
  • 153
    As an economist my opinion is ... if a person doesn't have prescription insurance they're NOT likely to have future prescriptions (Rx/Rxs) filled at a supermarket chain. Supermarket chain prices are not generally competitive with Wal-Mart or Target Rx prices. Nor would that person be likely to change their grocery shopping habits because of the free antibiotics program. People have certain habits that a free antibiotic is going to be unlikely to change, especially when it comes to where they buy their food.

    As a person who is uninsured, I was the recipient of a free antibiotic prescription when I had pneumonia. It is up to physicians to NOT "hand out" antibiotic Rxs to people who demand them. There used to be a real problem w/this practice, but many physicians are now becoming much more focused on NOT encouraging a pill for every sniffle or sore throat.
    The problem of drug resistant strains of many common bacteria has helped many physicians to change their prescribing practices. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. There will always be physicians who are not good practioners. But that doesn't mean that the uninsured parent with a child who has strep throat should go without the needed medications. Some illnesses can be VERY serious if not treated.

    A few bad apples should not be allowed to spoil the whole basket. - 5/16/2009   8:08:16 PM
    I see this 1st hand ...people come to the ER and expect that they will be given a medication to make it all better...unfortunately there is not always a medication that is going to make it better...sometimes just TIME is the key...I think that the problem here is not with free antibiotics but with the physicians that are writing the scripts just to make people happy...people can not write their own scripts...they are getting them from docs who are writing them are doing it so people keep coming back to them not because the antibiotics are needed...we need more public education and we need docs who are willing to stand up and say " I know that you want an antibiotic but the antibiotic can cause you more harm than good"...they need to educate the patient and their family...

    The other thing is that the pharmacies are doing a good thing...I see people in the ER every night that I work who can't afford their medications...I don't think that this is a bad idea...I feel that if there is an abuse of the system it is in the writing of the scripts and not the free scripts.. - 2/8/2009   5:16:32 PM
    i think patient education is key here. The doctor should be given enough time to be with the patient and fully expain. We as patients have to learn to ask if the information isn't offered. I'm all for cheaper perscriptions as long as patients know what their getting. giving away antibiotics willy nilly is asking for trouble-must have prescription. - 1/25/2009   12:42:18 AM
  • 150
    When I developed asthma and some other problems I was put on antibiotics as an every day treatment. I was given three different antibiotics and rotated them month by month. After a while, I balked at this plan as I knew I would build up a resistance. I think I have gotten along just fine taking them only when really necessary.
    This is an interesting and thought provoking article with many comments worth reading. Thanks - 1/23/2009   10:48:09 PM
  • 149
    Many viruses are becoming resistant to antibiotics and if people take them freely everytime they have "something" they need a pill for, maybe it's not a good idea to have them dispensed free at stores who want to draw customers. Better to stick to one pharmacy where they can keep track of what you're taking - 1/23/2009   12:22:45 AM
  • 148
    I am fortunate to have good health insurance (hubby's work) in addition to my Medicare. If it weren't for that, I would have to find other alternatives to my $16,000 a year drug costs. Yes, sixteen thousand a year.

    Before I got coverage, I had to do without. Beg for money to pay for meds. Raid my doctor's office sample closet. The best thing I found was . they help people get free meds from the drug companies. Worked great for the non-generic meds.

    As for the "free" me they are not free, someone is paying for them. I have chronic bronchitis and spend about 3 months out of the year on antibiotics. Even if I didn't have insurance, I could afford regular priced generic antibiotics. And I imagine that the "free" antibiotics are the generic ones, like amoxicillan and penicillan. I can't imagine that a pharmacy gives away $200 script of Leviquian. - 1/22/2009   7:49:08 PM
  • 147
    I have a limited income and I think the discounted prescriptions is a GREAT idea. It hurts my heart to hear about folks either not taking their meds at all because they can't afford to get them or of them breaking pills in half because they are so expensive.
    I believe every American should have the medicines they need and these programs help that to happen. - 1/21/2009   12:15:33 PM
  • 146
    I cannot agree with you more, OBXMOON! As I nurse, I see the same thing with no history & patients jumping from one institution to another - what ABOUT drug interactions - patients don't realize the danger & as healthcare professionals, it becomes nearly impossible to teach them all about the dangers & side effects. Free RX's should be strictly for those who cannot afford them - not those who "stockpile" them. - 1/21/2009   4:03:54 AM
  • 145
    Being a pharmacist, i have to speak out against those free rxs - they are only used to get folks into their store. There is a great danger in people jumping from one pharmacy to another, as there is no history, and no checking of possible drug interactions. How many of those takers of free antibiotics know the possible drug interaction with their birth control, for example? Sorry to preach, and i know the cost of meds is high, but free meds should be reserved to those that truly need them ( kids, elders with no/low income), and everyone would benefit from sticking with one pharmacy! - 1/20/2009   8:29:15 PM
    While I understand the concern of those who worry about the overuse of antibiotics, the sad fact is, the situation had already been going on for a long time before the stores started offering free antibiotics or the stores offering certain medications for a reduced price. Many of us do not have insurance of any kind or have any assistance with medications so it is a blessing for those of us who might need it. I have not had to use the free antibiotics offer yet. I do not go to the doctor when I don't need to and many times even when I do need to because I do not have the money for it. I do take advantage of the $4 prescriptions and the $10 for 90 day prescriptions since I am on thyroid medication. I was getting it at the health dept until i found out it was cheaper to get it at one of the stores offering the reduced prices. I let them know about it and now they just give prescriptions out so the people can choose. I am thankful for that bit of help. - 1/20/2009   7:51:27 PM
  • 143
    I say those ppl that need the antibiotic, definately have your share of the $4 or the free scripts. But I can see, that I all too often hear dr's just writing them to get patients to "shut up." I think that's a no-no and they should stick firm that if they feel it wouldn't benefit them, then surely don't give it to them. But if in 1.5-2 weeks their not better, then start trying to figure out what is wrong!!! I don't like all this talk about RX's and a dr just using them to get someone to hush... or a parent to stop screaming b/c their child isn't well. Stuff takes time and lil TLC sometimes all we need. JMO! - 1/20/2009   5:06:00 PM
    I think the free 'scripts' are good for people who truly need to get them because they're ill and perhaps can't afford the cost of the medication to help them get better. Yes, I think many people overuse and abuse antibiotics, but the stores who offer this service are not to blame for that. People need to take responsibilities for themselves. - 1/20/2009   9:33:01 AM
    I just took my daughter to the doctor because was not kicking her head cold/sinus infection. She had been sick for almost a month. She had tried OTC meds, extra fluids, extra rest, steam, vitamin C. I finally took her to the doctor and asked for help. The doctor said that she needs antibiotics and realized that she had not had a prescription for over a year and quickly wrote it out. They key is not to overwrite the scripts. I agree that most of the time it is a virus and very mild but you can get a secondary bacterial infection that makes it hard to get over it.
    Doctors are aware of MRSA and other drug resistant strains of Staph and Strep infections. There are also steroids to help too. The best course of action is maintaining a healthy, clean lifestyle and preventing the spread of these diseases that cost America so many sick days. Eat well, Sleep well, exercise well, and wash your hands as if the Influenza kills, because it does. - 1/20/2009   7:39:41 AM
  • 140
    Who would want to take antibiotics unless they have to?
    Any doctor that would do what the patient demands is either a wimp or an idiot. I have a bit more faith in doctors not to write out antibiotic prescriptions at the whim of a patient.
    But some medication is over 50 dollars a bottle and those on fixed or small incomes need this program. Those who say it will be abused, there will always be a 10% that will abuse anything, are the type that won't let anyone get a good deal on anything!! - 1/20/2009   5:31:37 AM
    I am a nurse and I honestly don't think that MD's will abuse RX writing for antibiotics just because their patients can get them for free. I have worked with enough to know that RX writing is kept to a minimum for antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary because they do not want their patients to develop a resistance. I think it is a wonderful idea to provide those really in need with a way to obtain the medicine they need for free or at a reduced cost. Too many folks these days have no health coverage and this is a great way of making things to help keep them on the road to health available to them they otherwise would not be able to obtain because of finances. - 1/20/2009   2:42:59 AM
  • 138
    It's just a another gimmick to get you to shop in their store, just like double or trible coupons. It only brings out the cherry pickers. - 1/19/2009   11:49:20 PM
    I wouldn't got to these ,unless I was already getting my prescriptions filled there. I don't think so much antibiotic medicine should be given out, either. It should only be if it's necessary. It does nothing for getting over an ordinary cold. - 1/19/2009   11:32:12 PM
  • 136
    The drugstores should be held accountable! - 1/19/2009   11:03:20 PM
  • 135
    terrible idea - can we say antibiotic resistance! - 1/19/2009   10:51:31 PM
  • 134
    I'm sure the consumer will pay more in other ways to make up for this freebie. However, we try to sharp smart and work the system. - 1/19/2009   10:49:36 PM
    Probably a few more prescriptions will be written by doctors when they know their patient can fill it for free. I don't see this as a major problem though. The real problem is the culture where people believe that a pill can cure any ill. The majority health problems get better on their own in their good time. You only need a doctor when you have one of the few things that you can't beat on your own or perhaps when you are so miserable that you need something to feel better until you are well.

    My doctor can tell the difference between a bacterial and a viral problem; I understand that this really isn't that difficult in most cases. When it looks like a virus she sends me on my way. Sometimes she sends me on my way with a script for antibiotics that she tells me to fill if and only if I get a secondary bacterial infection. I suppose a few patients might go ahead and fill prescriptions like this even if they don't need to when it is free.

    Earth420: Homeopathy is quack medicine. Think "extra-strength placebo." Like I said, most conditions get better on their own which is the only way Homeopaths stay in business. Most homeopaths have the good sense to send their patients off to a real doctor when they have anything serious enough to need medical attention rather than water. Homeopaths in fact do provide a service by keeping hypochondriacs from buggind doctors as much. - 1/19/2009   5:08:18 PM
  • 132
    Personally, I never want to be on any medication unless it is absolutely necessary but I have a daughter who cannot afford medication if she were to need it. There are pros and cons to everything but the doctors really need to be responsible. No means NO, you don't need it! I truly perfer the holistic remedies but when the need for meds happens, I will pay for it or accept it free of charge. - 1/19/2009   5:01:47 PM
    I think this is a great thing. I personally can't wait until the US catches up with every other developed nation in the world and adopts universal health care. I also agree that dr's need to take responsibility for not over prescribing unnecesary medications. How is it that parents are held responsible for giving in to their children's unhealthy demands but dr's aren't accountable for what they provide for their patients? I don't really care if it is a marketing strategy. Every once in a while big corporations do something that works out in the people's favor, take advantage. But no, I would not switch pharmacies to use this program unless I absolutely needed to do so. - 1/19/2009   4:42:39 PM
  • 130
    In the first place, it is the doctors who need to grow a backbone and not give in to the patients that "demand" a particular prescription. It is the duty of the doctor to decide if a prescription is needed. I agree that antibiotics are being over-used, but I see that as a problem with the doctor. Even I know that antibiotics do not work on viral infections. As for switching pharmacies, NO, I would not. If I had to have something I couldn't afford, I would go to the pharmacy that is giving it away, but for other prescriptions, I would go to my normal pharmacy. People, in general, need to think about what they are doing. Ultimately, one is responsible for their own actions. - 1/19/2009   3:40:59 PM
  • 129
    Pharmacology and the AMA are giving people glorified bandaids! You would do better overall by finding a very good homeopathic doctor and working w/ him to TRULY CURE what ails you. - 1/19/2009   2:37:21 PM
  • 128
    I just don't know I speak from not having any insurance (raised three boys) and we make exactly 40 dollars to much a year to recieve any type of help.
    For families with no coverages I think this would be great. Any program that is in place is always going to have the abuses. I don't care what they are giving away. I thought it was a blessing to get basic meds at Walmart/Brookshires/an any other store that was providing the low costs meds on the list.
    Our prescriptions problems need to be addressed. My G-ma had over 300 ( 1 was a less than a oz of liquid eye med that was 97 dollars)dollars a month on her medications. And was on a medicare + a prescription plan the didn't cover everything or changed their mind on a whim ever year. This is a problem that needs to be fixed! - 1/19/2009   2:30:34 PM
    I have tried using these programs & in most instances I end up paying more then the $4. I learned that this is because my doctor isn't prescribing the drugs involved in the program or there is no generic to replace what was originally prescribed. Oh well, there I go spending more then I intended on my prescriptions. GLR - 1/19/2009   2:28:25 PM
  • 126
    We have this offer at many of the local stores, including Krogers,, half of my monthly income is spent on Rx's and I HAVE INSURANCE!! I also pay a large portion of each paycheck for insurance through my workplace. This is mainly for possible hospitalizations..
    It does not include any optical or dental needs. I would have to be at death's door to take any antibiotic. As stated above, when taken for extended periods or for things that your own body can work to defend, they cause worse problems.. Yeast infections, thrush, (same thing), resistance ot worse illnesses later in life.

    There will be abuse no matter what or where things are offered. It is sort of like the conundrum of is it worse to jail an innocent man or let a bad one go free???
    I would take advantage of the Rx's but it would never sway me to shop at that store...

    - 1/19/2009   2:15:32 PM
  • 125
    The first time I heard about the free antibiotics was when my daughter's doctor gave her a prescription and told her to have it filled at Publix for free. Her doctor make sure what he prescribed was on the list. I think it is great for people who need help and great for a doctor to try and help. My daughter was only given fourteen pills and had to have a new prescription for a refill. When you have it filled at a pharmacy where you pay or have an insurance copay you are usually give thirty pills so I don't see people stock piling pills. - 1/19/2009   1:38:37 PM
  • 124
    You know, if we can't afford the prescription, chances are there is no shopping. And to borrow money to even go to the doctor in the first place is humiliating, so to not have to borrow to pay for the prescription is a good thing. And then there are those who are on State medical assistance. If they don't have to pay for a prescrip. with the state money, that helps the state. I personally think they could have charged a dollar or two, but they went above and beyond. So, shop there if you have money to shop! - 1/19/2009   12:40:11 PM
  • 123
    I think it is commendable that there are programs offering necessary medicines to those who can not afford it otherwise. I wonder how many people who are giving negative reviews of these programs have actually had to do without antibiotics when they needed them because of lack of money - 1/19/2009   12:33:17 PM
  • EVENSONG2911
    I have no health insurance and caught a really painful ear infection over Thanksgiving. Thankfully I could fork over the $60 to see a nurse practitioner and get a prescription. But had it not been for publix giving away the free antibiotics I would not have been able to take that medicine. I don't seek out unnecessary medical treatment, I'm simply glad to be healthy, but people need away to take care of themselves. - 1/19/2009   12:22:32 PM
  • 121
    I think that when a person needs an antibiotic, they should be able to get it. For that reason, I believe that Meijer and Publix (who provide certain antibiotics for free) and those companies who now offer meds for $4 for a 30-day script are doing the public a favor. There are situations when even paying the $4 is difficult for some, so I commend the companies who are doing what they can to help those in need.

    So what if they are drawing customers away from other places of business!!! People who actually need the discount should have a place to go to get the meds they need to get better. - 1/19/2009   11:06:06 AM
  • 120
    I think that the advertising should say, "Free antibiotics with a legal prescription from your doctor." I would not change pharmacies for this, mostly because there are few times that my kids or my husband or I would actually NEED antibiotics. We don't treat colds with a visit to the doctor, unless it is accompanied by a prolonged high fever or relentless cough. If I did need to buy antibiotics, paying the $10 copay is fine with me; no need to try a new pharmacy just for antibiotics. Now, if they wanted to give away free OTC meds...we would appreciate that!! - 1/19/2009   11:05:01 AM
  • KAREN214
    There is alway a neede to see a physician for an antiobotic prescription. No one can replace a doctor for an perscription of drugs! - 1/19/2009   10:31:40 AM
    Never heard of it until now. Interesting to think about. - 1/19/2009   10:23:29 AM
  • 117
    I use the pharmacy at our local Meijer and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the amoxicillin I was prescribed was on their free list. I had no idea they had the program, but was happy with the bonus - it was one nice thing that happened on a really crappy/sicky day. Four days later, however, my doctor changed my antibiotic to augmentin b/c I needed something more general (my swollen lymphnodes were back to normal, but not my sinus infection). The augmentin was not on the list and so I had to pay $15 (per my insurance) for that one.

    I guess I never thought of this free drug program as being particularly good or bad - probably because I didn't even know about it until I was prescribed a drug that was part of it. I would never think of stockpiling drugs - that's just silly. I especially wouldn't do that with antibiotics because I HATE taking them in the first place and only take them if I absolutely have to (I say that after having just gotten over yet another antibiotic-induced yeast infection - TMI, I'm sure).

    Now that I know about the program it doesn't make me like the pharmacy more or less - I go there because the location is convenient and I like the people there. - 1/19/2009   10:15:48 AM
  • 116
    What a touchy subject for some....Anyway, I think that doctors are trying to do a good job at controlling how many antibiotics they prescribe. I have seen several doctors over the years post notices about antibiotics and not prescribe them unneccessarily. I think that the low cost drug program can be good for some but it doesn't cover the real meds that many of us need. My heartburn medication isn't covered and my diabetic meds aren't either. I know a lot of people who cannot take advantage of this program because the drugs on the list are very limited. As far as the antibiotic overusage, I feel that as consumers we expect pills every time instead of nature running it's course. We also are guilty of not finishing the entire prescription which can cause other problems. The public wants a quick fix not a real run of a virus because we are too busy nowadays. In addition, our world is becoming so anti-bacterial with all our soaps, gels, lotions, wipes, tissues, cleaners, etc. that we don't have natural immunity to anything like people used to! What happened to a little old fashioned dealing with a cold or flu by drinking fluids and resting? I think we need to stop over-antibacterial using and only take what meds are truly for a bacterial infection. Otherwise, I think that these so called prescription plans should be a little more varied in the type of meds they offer for so cheap. It wouls sure save me a LOT of money!!! Have a super day! - 1/19/2009   9:28:15 AM
  • 115
    I, too, find it interesting that people always 'blame' the patient for this. Doctors have to grow a backbone and tell patients that antibiotics are not going to help all conditions including viral. If they want to go to another doctor, then go. They can tell them the same thing. Medicine is not a popularity contest.
    Don't fault the companies that are trying to relieve some of the financial burden on people who want to take care of their children, but can't afford the high costs of prescription drugs. What they are doing could save someone's life. - 1/19/2009   9:17:47 AM
  • 114
    Wow I don't really know where to begin on this, it seemed like a good idea! Now not so sure. It should help those without medical insurance get the antibotics that they need, but can they afford to go to Dr. There are always those that milk the system and I don't worry about them, they have to live with their actions. Myself I won't know if I'll take advantage of the free offer until I get something that needs an antibotics! - 1/19/2009   7:34:32 AM

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