What is a Mail-Order Pharmacy? How it Works, What to Know

Posted May 22, 2020 by Prescription Hope - See Editorial Guidelines(Last Updated On: May 3, 2023)

Purchasing medications can be expensive. So, individuals are always looking for ways they can save money. A mail-order pharmacy may potentially provide some financial relief when compared to purchasing your medications from traditional pharmacies.

A Mail-Order Pharmacy: The use of mail-order pharmacies has greatly increased over the decades, as every year, billions of prescriptions are mailed to individuals. Mail-order pharmacies may be more convenient than a traditional pharmacy for individuals to get their prescription medication. They often work through your insurance plan, as there may be a price difference in your medicine between mail-order and local pharmacies.

Since mail-order pharmacies may be beneficial for some but not for others, we will cover all the details about ordering your prescriptions through the mail.  

What is a Mail-Order Pharmacy?

What is a Mail-Order Pharmacy

A mail-order pharmacy is a pharmacy that sends medications to patients through the mail. This means that patients do not have to go to a local brick and mortar pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions. Instead, the medication is shipped to the patient’s doorstep.

A mail-order pharmacy will often fill your medicine in a 90-day supply, whereas many traditional pharmacies only provide you a 30-day supply.

Some employers will offer a mail-order pharmacy program as part of their prescription benefits for employees. If you are unsure if your health insurance plan covers mail-order pharmacy, then contact your insurance plan. They should be able to tell you whether that is part of your benefits package and if there is a price difference.

Why Use a Mail-Order Pharmacy?

Mail-order pharmacies may provide extra benefits for certain individuals. The first and most obvious benefit may be the convenience. With a mail-order pharmacy, you don’t have to leave your house to wait in line to fill your prescription. This is especially beneficial if your local pharmacy is farther from your house than what you’d like.

Another beneficial factor to consider is the convenient customer service of mail-order pharmacies. Many of the programs offer 24/7 service through their website or over the phone. This allows you to have any questions you may have answered quickly and conveniently.

One of the most significant benefits may be the larger supply an individual can receive through a mail-order pharmacy. Generally, a patient can receive a 90-day supply of their medication through the mail. This is significantly more compared to a typical 30-day supply often given at your traditional pharmacy.

The insurance provider is able to buy medications directly from the manufacturer, in many instances. This means that the drugs are able to be bought in bulk, which helps lower the cost of the drug. Having a 90-day supply also means less time and work on your part for getting refills.

When you Shouldn’t Use a Mail-Order Pharmacy

Though there are many benefits of using a mail-order pharmacy, there are some instances where it may not be worth it.

If you are in need of your medication right away or about to run out of your medicine, then using a mail-order pharmacy may not be right for you. It can take a few days before your medication is shipped or delivered. So, if you need a med right away, it might better to just go to your local pharmacy to pick it up.

As many of you already know, the mail system can be unpredictable. You may have an estimated delivery date, but that date can change. Plus, some mail orders may require a signature in order to receive them. So, if no one is home to receive the medication and sign for it, you may experience even more delays before being able to take it.

Delays in mail-order prescriptions can also be damaging to the medication if it is a drug that needs to remain at a certain temperature. This includes medications such as insulin. Insulin has to remain refrigerated in order for it to keep its stability. However, if no one is able to receive the mailed medication, then it can sit outside your door in the sun, causing it to become damaged.

A mail-order pharmacy may not be right for you if you prefer to talk to a pharmacist in person. Some patients may have questions to talk to their pharmacists about when they pick up their medication. This is not possible through mail-order pharmacies.

If there is no price difference between your local pharmacy and a mail-order pharmacy, then it may not be worth it. It becomes personal preference at that point. However, it is always important to remember that packages can be damaged or stolen when they are mailed.

Is a Mail-Order Pharmacy Different than an Online Pharmacy?

What is a Mail-Order Pharmacy

At first glance, mail-order and online pharmacies may seem like the same thing. Really, the only thing similar about them is that they both ship medicines to your door.

Mail-order pharmacies operate through your health insurance plan. Some may require you to have a specific health plan. Online pharmacies do not work with your health insurance plan.

Online pharmacies operate as a drugstore and may not accept your health insurance. It is important to note that there are some fraudulent online pharmacies. Fraudulent online pharmacies may try to sell you an illegal version of a medication that has not been approved by the FDA and may be harmful.

Things to Consider Before Using a Mail-Order pharmacy

There are some things you should consider before jumping on the mail-order pharmacy train. You want the most convenient and inexpensive way to get your medications. So, here are things to consider.

  • How far do you live from your local pharmacy?

If your local pharmacy is a long drive away, then mail-order may be right for you. But if your local pharmacy is just down the street, it may not be worth it.

  • Is getting your medication through the mail cheaper?

If your medication is cheaper at your local pharmacy, then it may not be worth it.

  • Do you have a lot of questions about the medications you are getting?

If you have a lot of questions about the medication you are getting, then you may benefit more from talking to a pharmacist face to face.

  • Is your medication lifesaving, and will you need it right away?

What is a Mail-Order Pharmacy

If you are running low on your medication that is lifesaving, say insulin, then you are better off going to your local pharmacy to fill the prescription right away.

  • Are you sure that your medication will work?

If you are trying a new medication that you are not sure will work, then a mail-order may not be of benefit. This is because, as mentioned earlier, mail-orders can come in bulk. So, if your medication doesn’t work, you could be wasting almost 3 months worth of medication. The same applies if you are experiencing severe side effects from a new medication.

  • Will your dose need to be gradually lowered or increased?

If your doctor has placed you on a medicine that requires the dose to be gradually increased or lowered, then having a 90-day supply by mail-order may not be the best choice.

How to Find a Mail-Order Pharmacy

Many large health plans have options for mail-order prescriptions. Most of the large health plans work with PBM’s, or pharmacy benefits managers. Some PBM’s include Caremark, Express Scripts, and MedCo.

If you have medication coverage with your health insurance plan, then you should check to see if they have a PBM. This will get you started with getting your medicine through mail-order. Overall, finding a mail-order pharmacy depends on your health coverage and financial circumstance.


We hope this has answered all of your questions regarding mail-order pharmacies. For more advice, contact your physician or health insurance plan.

Prescription Hope is a patient advocacy service which utilizes patient assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. We work with your doctor and directly with the drug manufacturer to provide you with your medication at just $60.00 a month for each drug . Enroll with us to get started.

See If You Qualify