Competitor: We Are an Established Choice Vis-a-Vis Cuban’s Pharmacy Startup

After Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company told customers to expect delays in prescription deliveries this Fall, executives at Marley Drug used the company’s communications to pitch itself as a more experienced alternative.

In other words, it’s a company that can meet the demand in these supply-constrained times.

Dallas, Texas-based Cost Plus Drugs launched in 2022 and offers almost 1,000 products online that are delivered by mail. It cuts out the middlemen to offer lower-priced drugs, often 80% less than common generic drugs.

A customer of Cost Plus Drugs received an email from the company in October stating that “due to skyrocketing demand,” shipping times have been delayed. For those who selected standard shipping of five to seven business days, the anticipated delivery time was extended to 10 to 14 days. For those who selected expedited shipping of one to three days, the anticipated delivery time was extended to six to 10 days. The company also said some medications were out of stock. 

A spokesperson for Cost Plus Drugs confirmed that it recently experienced delays, but has since fixed the problem by increasing staffing to meet demand.

But while Cost Plus Drugs adjusts to its growing customer base, Marley Drug is another competitive option not experiencing delays, declared Reuben Saba, vice president of medical and business affairs at Medicure, the parent company of Marley Drug. The pharmacy was founded in 2003. 

“It is likely quite impossible for one company to serve roughly over 300 million Americans and certainly we’re seeing that. There are several different options, including Marley Drug,” Saba said in an interview. “Our goal is to provide support for these Americans who want to access cost-effective medication in a timely fashion.”

Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Marley Drug is a full-service pharmacy that ships to all 50 states, serving insured, uninsured and underinsured patients. It also has a storefront in Winston-Salem, where customers can go in person to pick up prescriptions. Its wholesale price list provides over 100 commonly prescribed medications in half-year or full-year supplies, at $37 or $70, respectively. It uses USPS to ship medications, which can take between two to five business days, depending on which delivery option the customer chooses.

It is able to provide low-cost options because it prices its generic drugs at what it costs the company to purchase them.

“We price it based on what it costs us to acquire the medication, so there isn’t any spread pricing or anything like that that’s often associated with PBMs and health insurance agencies,” Saba said. Spread pricing is a practice used by Pharmacy Benefit Managers in which they charge payers more than they pay the pharmacy for medications and then keep the difference. 

Since it was founded in 2003, Marley Drug has the experience to meet high demand that newer companies may not be able to achieve, Saba claimed.

“There is healthy competition around and I think it speaks to our experience,” Saba said. “We’ve been around for nearly 20 years. We are first and foremost a brick and mortar pharmacy that has experienced all types of customers … We do have the ability to grow beyond our current limits to support the demand we have.”

Another company in the space is the online pharmacy DiRx, which launched in 2021. In order to offer affordable prices, like Marley Drug and Cost Plus Drugs, DiRx cuts out middlemen like drug wholesalers and purchases drugs directly from manufacturers. Its program called the Annual Savings Plan allows patients to either pay $119 annually per person for 500 products or $299 annually per person for 1,000 products. The company has not experienced any delays, said Satish Srinivasan, CEO and founder of DiRx.

“Though DiRx has experienced consistently increasing demand in order volumes every single month since launching a year ago, we have been able to keep up with this growing demand,” Srinivasan wrote in an email.

Although Cost Plus Drugs has undergone some growing pains as a new company, it speaks to Americans’ need for affordable prescription drugs, Saba said.

“Mr. Cuban has brought a great voice to this movement of accessing cost-effective medication at the cash price rather than going through the traditional insurance channel where the prices even for the most common generic medication can be really high,” he said. “Certainly he has brought that to national attention.”

Photo: bong hyunjung, Getty Images

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