Mark Cuban's New Discount Pharmacy Promises Low-Cost Drugs. Just How Cheap Is It?
Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban recently launched a new venture to combat the sky-high prices of prescription drugs. Cuban, best known as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and for his role in the reality TV show Shark Tank, is now putting his name behind a new online pharmacy offering low-price generic drugs to the public — with no insurance needed.
In fact, insurance is not accepted at all at the new venture, which is called the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company (MCCPDC) and officially launched Jan. 19, according to a news release.
The company is a direct-to-consumer online pharmacy that pledges “radically transparent” drug prices. The MCCPDC website, CostPlusDrugs.com, currently offers an inventory of more than 100 generic drugs that are deeply discounted from their retail prices. Shipping is currently available to 49 states — all except North Carolina.
"We will do whatever it takes to get affordable pharmaceuticals to patients," said CEO Alex Oshmyansky in the release. "The markup on potentially lifesaving drugs that people depend on is a problem that can't be ignored.”
As part of its transparency pledge, the online pharmacy breaks down exactly how much you’re paying for a specific drug and why. The company shares what it pays drug manufacturers, then adds a 15% markup plus a flat $3 pharmacy labor fee — all of which are explicitly outlined during the checkout process.
For example, Albendazole — the generic form of Albenza — is an antiparasitic drug that is used to treat various tape-worm-related infections, according to the National Institutes of Health. On the MCCPDC website, the generic drug costs $33 for two 200 mg tablets. The company explains that it negotiated a $26.08 price with the manufacturer, applied a 15% markup of $3.92 and a flat $3 pharmacy fee. (A $5 shipping fee and, of course, taxes are extra.) The regular retail price for Albendazole is a whopping $437.68, according to the site.
Where to find low-price prescription drugs
To put MCCPDC's drug prices into perspective, we compared them with third-party retail price estimates and two other discount-drug websites, Drugs.com and GoodRx.com.
Here’s how a few other generic drugs available on MCCPDC stack up. While Cuban's pharmacy currently has a limited number of generic drugs right now, all the ones we compared were significantly cheaper than retail prices and other discount drug websites.
|Drug||Quantity and dose||MCCPDC price||GoodRx avg. discounted price||Drugs.com discounted price||Estimated retail price|
|Abacavir / lamivudine (generic Epzicom)||30 count; 600 mg / 300 mg tablets||$57.60||$86.08||$121||$1,096.10 - $1,226.40|
|Amlodipine (generic Norvasc)||30 count; 10 mg tablets||$3.60||$22.90||$24.84||$29.84 - $50|
|Atorvastatin (generic Lipitor)||30 count; 40 mg tablets||$4.20||$21.63||$19.53 – $32.02||$55.20 - $68|
|Fluoxetine (generic Prozac)||30 count; 10 mg capsules||$3.90||$15||$12.01 - $30.93||$22.80 - $23.89|
|Imatinib (generic Gleevec)||30 count; 100 mg tablets||$17.10||$41.29||$218.59||$2,502.50 - $3,212.88|
The savings seem impressive. But note: Cuban's online pharmacy does not accept insurance currently. Your health insurance plan — if you have one — may help cover the cost of certain prescription drugs purchased at in-network pharmacies, though drug plans vary widely by insurer. Prescription drugs purchased with insurance may also count toward your deductible, if you have one. In some cases, you may have to meet your overall deductible or a specific prescription-drug deductible before drug discounts apply.
Figuring out where and how it makes the most sense to get your prescription drugs is not always simple. Say your health plan does cover a drug: the price you pay out of pocket will probably be much lower than the non-discounted "retail price" listed above. But if your prescription is covered by your insurer and is available through MCCPDC, you should compare your out-of-pocket costs to see which is truly cheaper.
How Mark Cuban's pharmacy keeps drug prices low
"There are numerous bad actors in the pharmaceutical supply chain preventing patients from getting affordable medicines," Oshmyansky said in the release. "The only way to ensure affordable prices get through is to vertically integrate."
In other words, the online pharmacy is able to offer generic drugs at a discount because it cuts out middlemen, namely third-party pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs). Cuban and Oshmyansky’s operation has its own pharmacy benefits management wing that negotiates directly with drug makers, rather than relying on one of the few massive PBMs that dominate the market.
According to a recent analysis by the Drug Channels Institute, six PBMs handled more than 95% of all prescription drug claims in the U.S. in 2020. With the top three — CVS, Cigna and UnitedHealth — dominating 77% of the market.
“The public sees profits made by pharmaceutical companies as the largest factor contributing to the price of prescription drugs,” according to a report by Kaiser Family Foundation. A KFF poll found that 78% of respondents say that profits from pharmaceutical companies are a “major factor” of drug prices, and that 29% reported they haven’t taken their medications as prescribed due to their costs.
By circumventing some of some of those "bad actors," Cuban's pharmacy can better manage the price of the drugs it offers. And while the pharmacy does not accept insurance, its prices may still rival the cost of certain drugs, even if they're already discounted through your insurance plan.
“In most cases, even without insurance,” the site states, “our prices are less than what you would pay when using your insurance at a typical pharmacy.”
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