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If you suspect medication costs are rising fast, it’s not your imagination. PharmPro.com reports that retail drug prices have recently increased at 50 times the inflation rate.
This year I completed several months of cancer treatments, so I know how expensive drugs can be. But I also know there are ways to reduce that cost. And I was without insurance for a while, so I have some tips on how to save money whether you’re insured or not.
In fact, by putting together advice from experts and from my own experience, I’ve found more than two dozen ways to save on both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.
Here they are, in no particular order…
Ibotta is a free mobile app that pays you for taking pictures of your receipts from your phone. Earn cash back when you shop for groceries, eat at restaurants, make online purchases and even medications and more.
When you sign-up, you get a $10 bonus when you claim your first offer.
When it comes to medications, Ibotta currently has discounts at some of the major pharmacies such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS Pharmacy.
2. Get a Prescription for a Non-Prescription Drug
If you have health insurance, and drugs are covered, you can ask your doctor for a prescription drug rather than spend your money on a OTC medication.
For example, when I had acid reflux due to chemotherapy, I could have paid about $24 for Prilosec or some other over-the-counter acid-reducer.
But by then, because I had met my deductible, I had 100% coverage for prescription drugs, so the doctor prescribed pantoprazole and it cost me nothing.
Often there are several drugs that are appropriate and effective, so ask the doctor to prescribe something if your insurance will cover it.
3. Get a OTC Medication Instead of a Prescription Drug
My oncologist prescribed an oral moisturizer because it “might help” with my dry mouth. This was before I had insurance coverage for my prescriptions.
When I heard the cashier say, “That’ll be $396.95,” I said “No, it won’t be,” and instead found a $6 non-prescription spray to moisten my mouth. The doctor was fine with that.
If your prescription drugs are expensive and not covered by insurance, ask the doctor about cheaper non-prescription alternatives.
4. Use the Right Credit Card
If you have a card that offers more cash back at grocery stores, you might get that rate at a pharmacy in a grocery store. Do a small test purchase at the pharmacy register to see if the purchase shows up in the “grocery” category on your statement.
5. Buy Online
If you do get your prescriptions filled online, be sure you buy from VIPPS-accredited pharmacies.
6. Buy More at One Time
If you pay the same copay for a prescription regardless of size, and you’re getting a long-term prescription, ask for a 90-day supply. That will save you two copay amounts versus getting the prescription filled every 30 days.
7.Ask for Samples
When I went through radiation treatment and chemotherapy, my skin had problems, to say the least. Nurses offered samples of various moisturizing and healing creams. I took them all, and then used them one-by-one, probably saving $40 or more.
Health care professionals often give you samples of medications, sometimes out of generosity, and sometimes because they’re motivated by drug company rewards.
Either way, if the medication is appropriate and the alternative is spending your own money, take the samples.
You can also get free samples of medicines directly from manufacturers. You’ll find current offers on websites like MyFreeProductSamples.com, or right on the drug makers’ websites.
8. Get Larger Pills and Cut Them
Usually pills that are twice as big cost less than twice as much. That means, if you need the smaller amount, you can buy the larger ones and cut them in half to save money.
Look for pills that have a cut line across the middle. Other pills may not be suitable for splitting, but ask the pharmacist.
You can buy a pill splitter at Walmart for less than $5.
9. Get an AARP Discount
With a AARP membership you can get a discount on drugs through their OptumRX program. You can save an average of 61% on prescription drugs not covered by your primary insurance or Medicare Part D.
10. Go Generic
Generics make up almost 90% of the drug market now, according to Optum.com. They are usually much cheaper than name brand drugs, so ask the pharmacist for the generic (or ask which is the cheapest, just to be sure).
What about safety? The FDA says it does “3,500 inspections of manufacturing plants a year” to make sure generic versions of prescription drugs are safe.
11. Get Free Drugs at Publix
Publix says, “We offer select maintenance meds—such as those for blood pressure or diabetes—and antibiotics, free.” Check their free medication program list to see which medicines are included (there are about ten at the moment).
12. Get a Free Drug Discount Card
If you have a AAA membership, you can download the AAA Prescription Savings card for free and save up to 75% on drugs at more than 67,000 pharmacies.
NeedyMeds.org also offers a free drug discount card.
Even if you have insurance, if you also have a steep copay, paying out-of-pocket using a discount card may cost less. Ask the pharmacist what the price would be each way.
13. Try a Big-Box Store Pharmacy
Several big box stores offer cheap generics in their pharmacies. Here are some examples, with links to the lists of drugs included in their programs:
- Walmart – $4 for 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply
- Target – $4 for 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply
- Kmart – $5 for 30-day supply or $10-to-$15 for a 90-day supply
14. Get Help Through PPA
The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) “helps qualifying patients without prescription drug coverage get the medicines they need for free or nearly free.”
The PPA website has a search feature for finding assistance programs based on drug names, as well as one for locating low-cost clinics.
15. Apply for a Drug Company Program
The pharmaceutical companies often have programs to help patients afford their drugs. Here are a couple examples:
Lilly Cares – If you qualify you can get a one-year supply of some Eli Lilly medications, including Prozac, Trulicity, Zyprexa, Evista, and a dozen other drugs.
GSK Patient Assistance Program – If you have Medicare Part D and meet other qualifications, you can get assistance purchasing drugs made by GlaxoSmithKline.
GSK Uninsured Patient Assistance Program – This is the GlaxoSmithKline program to try if you have no health insurance.
If you regularly use pharmaceuticals manufactured by other drug companies, check online or give the company a call to see if they have an assistance program.
You can also use RXAssist to locate drug company programs.
16. Try The Assistance Fund
The Assistance Fund helps cover the cost of prescription copays for patients who have certain medical conditions. You can check their list of covered diseases to see if you qualify.
17. Find the Right Medicare Program
MedicareDrugSavings.org says, that, based on a 2012 study, “the average person on Medicare D who is taking a specific group of medicines could save $368/year by choosing a different plan which covers the same medicines.”
If you have Medicare Part D, use a Medicare Website Guide to choose the best plan during open enrollment.
18. Ask for a Lower Price
The person at the pharmacy register may know how you can get a better price — if you ask. For example, when I asked about the high cost of a particular drug the cashier suggested using a free discount card that would bring down the price.
19. Use Coupons
Sometimes you can find coupons for medications in newspapers and magazines. And you can always find free manufacturer drug coupons online, for both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Coupons.com has lots of coupons you can print out.
20. Check GoodRx
One of the fastest ways to find the pharmacy with the lowest price for a particular medication is to use GoodRX.com.
For example, a search for ondansetron, an anti-nausea medication my oncologist prescribed, showed the cheapest price at Walmart (for 30 pills, with an online coupon) was $43.36, while at the Kroger pharmacy it was just $9.39.
21. Get Paid to Change Pharmacies
Pharmacies often have promotions that encourage you to transfer your prescriptions to them. If the prices are similar, or your drugs are covered by your insurance, it makes sense to take advantage of these offers.
For example, I recently got three $25 Safeway gift cards for transferring three prescriptions to their pharmacy. That’s $75 for moving my prescriptions to the closest pharmacy to my home!
If you have any grocery store loyalty cards, check your accounts online to see if the stores are offering anything for switching to their pharmacy. I received my offer by mail, but it was also just one click away in my Safeway Club Card account.
22. Ask Your Doctor for Alternatives
When your doctor is ready to prescribe a drug, ask if there are other drugs that are similarly effective. Then check the prices and ask for the prescription that is cheapest.
23. Check a Formulary
A formulary is a list of drugs used for various conditions. In the context of insurance it is the list of drugs covered by your policy, which is usually accessible online.
There may be a dozen or more drugs listed for a particular medical condition or disease, but if you Google the options to see which is likely to be most effective and/or have the fewest side effects, you can probably narrow the choices down to three or four.
Search the drugs on GoodRX.com and note the prices. Then bring your list with you to the doctor. If she says the efficacy of these drugs is about the same, ask her to prescribe the cheapest one.
24. Apply for the Extra Help Program
Extra Help, a program run by the Social Security Administration, helps Medicare recipients with prescription drug plan costs. To qualify you “must be receiving Medicare, have limited resources and income, and reside in one of the 50 States or the District of Columbia.”
25. Apply for Help From Your State
Many state governments have programs to help people with drug costs. Medicare.gov has a database of state pharmaceutical assistance programs you can search to see if you qualify for help from the state.
26. Use Less Medicine
This is not a suggestion to skip your meds, but there are drugs that are taken “as needed” and have undesirable side effects, such as many pain killers. If you “need” them less often you can save money and be healthier. Check with your doctor, of course.
27. Try Non-Drug Remedies
Ask your doctor about non-drug remedies that might replace pharmaceuticals. Often these are cheaper and safer.
Educate your doctor, if necessary. That may mean educating yourself first, of course. You can start with Prevention Magazines’ report on natural alternatives to the most-prescribed drugs.
28. Buy Drugs in Other Countries
VeryWell.com says, “The costs of brand-name drugs are usually substantially lower overseas.” Buying from foreign pharmacies is mostly illegal, but their report has a section on when it is legal, and how to deal with customs.
29. Talk to Your Pharmacist
Ask for a consultation with the pharmacist. She may have suggestions for cheaper medications that are just as effective.
I’ve done this with good results, and all it took was a call to the doctor to switch to the new prescription.
But you have to ask directly. Consumers Reports says pharmacists are, “sometimes bound by “gag clauses” in contracts with insurers that prohibit them from suggesting cheaper alternatives without first being directly asked by a consumer.”
30. Challenge Your Doctor
Sometimes your doctor may be less-than-objective, and that can result in pricey prescriptions you don’t need..
For example, I once listened to an allergy doctor push a sinus dilation procedure with a new device like he was a used car salesman. I later investigated online and discovered that the device maker had paid for the doctor to take a $3,000 trip to a nice resort.
Almost all doctors get money or freebies from drug and device makers, and you can check out your doctor here:
Most of the time payments are not substantial. For example, if you search you’ll find a lot of $10 or $12 lunches paid for so a doctor can be “educated” about a new drug. That’s not likely to influence a doctor too much.
Other times the amount of the compensation, and so the potential effect on judgment, is more substantial. If you see large payments from the company that makes that expensive prescription the doc has you on, you may want a second opinion.
31. Shop Around
You might think shopping around for drugs will save you just a few dollars at a time, but the differences in prices can be surprisingly large.
For example, a Consumer Reports investigation found that the price of a one-month supply of Celecoxib (Celebrex) was $204 at Walgreens, and just $22 at HealthWarehouse.com.
When Consumer Reports got price quotes on a one-month supply of five common prescriptions the total ranged from $66 to almost $900!
Even stores in the same chain can have widely varying prices. For example, a CR secret shopper found that the discounted price of atorvastatin (Lipitor) was $127 at one Rite Aid pharmacy, while another Rite Aid found discounts that brought the price down to $18.
If you’re taking a drug that costs $4, no worries. But if the price is much higher than that, be sure to check more than one pharmacy.
Putting it All Together
I hope you can use at least a few of the strategies above to save some serious money on your medications. Even better, try to apply several of them at once.
For example, you might ask your doctor about a cheaper alternative, then locate the cheapest pharmacy, use a coupon, and pay with a cashback credit card that has pharmacies as a bonus category.
If you’ve found your own ways to save on prescription drugs and other medications, please share them with us below … and keep on frugaling!