Top 10 Ways to Save Money on Your Medication Costs
Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Sep 14, 2020.
Ask for a Generic Drug
Let’s face it - talking about health care costs is not at the top of everybody's to-do list. But with patients now responsible for more out-of-pocket dollars, it's important to consider the value of treatments. Here are 10 first steps for saving some medication money.
Not all drugs are available generically, but those that are have exactly the same active ingredients and therapeutic effects as brand name drugs, and can cost 30 to 80 percent less.
Don’t wait until you get to the pharmacy to ask for a generic – let your doctor or other healthcare provider know that you prefer generics before they write the prescription. Many popular but previously expensive medications are now available generically or even over-the-counter (OTC); focus on getting these cost-saving alternatives.
Popular but low cost generic drug or OTC classes that are now stocked at the pharmacy include:
Research Your Medication Copays
Learn about your insurance copays or co-insurance. For example, research your "tier copay" on your insurance website or give them a call and ask about tiers on your plan.
Copay tiers for prescription drugs can vary widely. Many plans have $10, $15 or $25 copays for generics (1st tier) or "preferred" drugs (2nd tier), and up to $35, $50 or even $100 copays on brand name, non-formulary or non-preferred drugs (3rd tier).
- Quite often insurance will 'prefer' one or two particular drugs in a drug class because they can get it at a more affordable rate through negotiations. This is also why "preferred" drugs are often no longer preferred at year's end, and your copay may go up.
- You can access most insurance company drug formularies on their websites. If you are still not sure what a drug might cost you, call your insurance company and ask them about copays for your prescription.
- Your pharmacist can also tell you your copay and suggest what alternatives you might have if you can't afford the prescription.
- And remember, don't hesitate to call your doctor and ask for a more affordable drug. Don't skip your medicine because of cost, if you can help it.
Talk to Your Healthcare Providers About Cost
Communication is key to understanding your insurance and getting it to work for you in the right way. Let your physician and pharmacist know you prefer lower copay drugs and generics when possible. They will work with you to find an affordable treatment.
If you have co-insurance for your prescription cost – for example, say you pay 15% of the total prescription cost – it is in your favor to get a generic or lower-tiered, "preferred" drug, if possible. Since you pay a percent of the total cost, the lower the total cost, the lower the co-insurance portion that you pay.
Many drugs are now available without a prescription (OTC) - for example, the heartburn medications Nexium 24Hr or Pepcid Complete and the non-sedating antihistamine Claritin 24-Hr Allergy. Your insurance might not pay for OTC drugs, but it is usually less expensive than paying full price for a prescription. If you have a health savings account, you might be able to charge OTCs to that card, too.
Learn About the Medicare Prescription Outpatient Drug Coverage
Learn about and use the Medicare prescription outpatient drug coverage (Medicare Part D) if you are 65 years of age or older.
According to the FDA, five out of six people age 65 years and older are taking at least one medication, and close to 50 percent of all seniors take three or more medications. This can seriously add up.
Medicare is the national health insurance program for people 65 years of age and older or with certain disabilities. Using the option Part D Medicare coverage, copays are often just $5 or $10.
Compare pharmacy prices for prescription drugs if you pay the full cash price instead of a copay.
- Prices between pharmacies can vary based on locations and volume of prescriptions.
- Check for the lowest prices - but also talk to your pharmacist who might be able to find a way to lower the cost to keep you as a satisfied patient.
- Your pharmacist can help maintain consistency with your medications, and check for drug interactions, side effects, and allergies, so it is best to keep all prescriptions at one pharmacy when possible.
Look for Patient Assistance Programs
Patient assistance programs provide free or lower-cost medications to people who cannot afford to buy their medicine.
Many pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs listed on their website. They may offer low- or no-cost copay coupons for certain medications, too.
You can also contact RxAssist.org, NeedyMeds.org, or PatientHelpNetwork.org – websites that offer a comprehensive listing of resources that offer assistance for low-income families. They may offer discount cards, as well.
Ask for Free Medication Samples
Consider checking with your doctor to see if they have free samples of your prescription medications.
- Often, doctors will have full size samples they can pass along, especially for maintenance medications such as asthma inhalers or blood pressure medications.
- These may be brand name products that do not have a generic available yet, so ask your doctor if you will be able to substitute a generic when needed. If not, you may be paying out-of-pocket for a very expensive brand name drug after your sample runs out.
- Don't pay for an expensive brand name drug if an equally effective generic is available. If you're not sure, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Seek Out Low-Cost Generics
- Look for pharmacies that offer low-cost generic drugs.
- Some retail pharmacies have a generic list of drugs on their website with costs as low as $4.00 for a 1-month supply or $10 for a 3-month supply.
- To get the lower cost 3-month supply, your doctor may need to actually write your prescription for a 90-day supply, so ask for that during your visit.
- Some retail grocery store chains even offer certain free generic antibiotics or other classes, be sure to ask.
- Show your $4 or free lists to your doctor to see if there are any options on the list for your specific condition.
- If you have the option to order medications via the mail (mail order pharmacy), this can save you money (and time), too. But you may have to buy a 3- or 6- month supply of maintenance medications like diabetes treatments or antidepressants, as mail order pharmacies often only sell drugs in bulk. If you're not sure you'll stay on the medicine, this might waste money and medicine, as you can't return it.
- Finding a medication that you can afford so you are able to take it as prescribed is very important. Look for generic over-the-counter (OTC) and store brand medications, too.
Discount Coupons: Don't Leave Home Without Them
Seek out online (but reliable) coupon codes and discount cards that can save money for your specific medication; these usually work if you're paying cash.
- Take the discount code or card to the pharmacist (or show it on your phone) and they can usually enter the code to gain the discount for you.
- Pharmacies are getting more comfortable with accepting these discount cards, but not all of them. You might want to call before you drive over.
- Keep in mind, some pharmacies may not honor coupon codes for controlled substances like opioid pain or anxiety medications.
If you find that a prescription cost is simply out of reach, ask your pharmacist if they can contact the doctor to determine a less expensive alternative. In most instances, a comparable medication that is lower in cost can be prescribed for your condition.
Finally, think about asking for a discount at the pharmacy counter. Many chain pharmacies have in-house prescription discounts they can offer, although you may have to pay a small fee. These plans can often save $10 or more per prescription.
Only Buy Reliable and Trustworthy Medications
While it may be a tempting way to save money on medications, do not buy prescriptions from foreign countries or from unreliable websites on the Internet. What you might save in dollars can be costly to your health.
- According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “the safety and effectiveness of imported drugs have not been reviewed by the FDA, and their identity and potency can't be assured.”
- You could receive the wrong drug, the wrong strength, fake drugs, or even outdated, expired medications.
- The FDA’s BeSafeRx can help you identify and avoid fake online pharmacies.
Finished: Top 10 Ways to Save Money on Your Medication Costs
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- FDA. Generic Drug Facts. Accessed Sept. 14, 2020 at https://www.fda.gov/drugs/generic-drugs/generic-drug-facts
- Consumer Reports. Same Generic Drugs, Many Prices. Accessed Sept. 14, 2020 at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/05/same-generic-drug-many-prices/index.htm
- FDA. BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy. Accessed Sept. 14, 2020 at https://www.fda.gov/drugs/quick-tips-buying-medicines-over-internet/besaferx-know-your-online-pharmacy
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.