Washington Post: As a health economist, Karen Van Nuys had heard that it’s sometimes cheaper to pay cash at the pharmacy counter than to put down your insurance card and pay a copay.

So one day, she asked her pharmacist how much her prescription would cost if she didn’t use her health coverage and paid cash.

“And sure enough, it was [several dollars] below my copay,” Van Nuys said.

Van Nuys and her colleagues at the University of Southern California Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics decided to launch a first-of-its-kind study to see how often this happens. They found that customers would be better off paying cash 23 percent of the time and would save an average of $7.69 using cash for those transactions.

The USC study, released Tuesday, analyzed the prices that 1.6 million people paid for 9.5 million prescriptions in the first half of 2013, based on data from Optum Clinformatics, an organization that sells anonymized claims data for analysis, and National Average Retail Price (NARP) data, which contained drug prices paid by insurers and was based on a national survey of pharmacists.

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