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How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

Written by Nickel - 16 Comments

I recently ran across on article on saving money when you buy prescription drugs by Dr. Edward Jardini, author of How to Save on Prescription Drugs: Twenty Cost-Saving Methods. There are a number of good tips, so I thought I’d recap them here along with some thoughts of my own (as well as a bonus tip at the end).

Ask for a cheaper alternative

Asking for a generic equivalent is probably the easiest way to save money on your prescriptions. In many cases, generics cost less than 10% of name brand drugs. Even if generics are not available, there may be a less expensive alternatives that do the same thing. Do a bit of research beforehand and then ask your doctor. Also, if you have more than one option, be sure to check if one is favored over the others by your prescription insurance (i.e., check your plan’s “formulary list”).

Split your pills

This is one that my Mom does all the time. Most prescription drugs are sold in a variety of dosages, with higher dosages selling at a discount in per unit terms (e.g., a 100 mg tablet will cost less than twice the price of a 50 mg tablet). Ask your doctor about the possibility of getting a prescription for half-tablet doses. You can pick up a pill-splitting device at most pharmacies. But keep in mind that this strategy won’t work for everything — e.g., gel caps and extended release tablets can’t be split.

Decline free samples

As counter-intuitive as this tip sounds, drug makers typically supply doctors with expensive new drugs. If the free samples represent the start of a long course of treatment, you might be better of with another (cheaper) drug that doesn’t have free samples. Of course, if they give you enough free samples to complete your course of treatment, you’re in the clear. Otherwise, think twice before jumping at what appears to be a generous offer.

Apply for patient-assistance programs.

Many major pharmaceutical companies have programs for supplying drugs for free to patients who can’t afford them. In fact, I’ve recently seem numerous commercials for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which is a free program backed by the major pharmaceutical companies. Aside from that, I don’t know much about it, but it’s certainly worth checking out. Also note that veterans may qualify for low-cost prescriptions through the VA.

Don’t ask for advertised drugs

Pharmaceutical companies have increasingly turned to marketing their produces directly to consumers. Unfortunately, that means that you may wind up asking for drugs that are more expensive, or perhaps not even necessary, when you visit the doctor’s office. In fact, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients who asked their doctor about a particular anti-depressant by name were more than five times more likely to walk out of their doctor’s office with a prescription than those who didn’t.

Don’t use insurance for low cost drugs

Some insurance plans require a minimum copay no matter how cheap a drug is, so… You might wind up paying (say) $10 for a drug that would otherwise cost $5. Fortunately for us, our prescription plan doesn’t do this – rather, if the price is less than the cop-ay, we get it for the actual price. I would also hope that pharmacists would catch this and advise their patients not to use their prescription coverage, but that doesn’t always happen.

You should also check out pharmacies at major retailers and grocers, as they’re increasingly offering cheap drug plans. In fact, Publix and Meijer grocery stores have started offering free prescriptions on certain antibiotics.

Get longer prescriptions

This one wasn’t actually included in the article, but I think it’s a good idea so I decided to include it… If you’re on a long term, maintenance-type drug, you should explore the possibility of getting a 90 day prescriptions (perhaps via mail order) instead of the standard 30 day prescription. In our case, we can get a 90 day prescription for about twice the price of a 30 day prescription – that’s a 33% savings, and it’s also more convenient since you don’t have to refill it as often.

Source: Bottom Line/Personal

Published on September 3rd, 2008 - 16 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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16 Responses to “How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs”

  1. 1
    Brandon Says:

    We have a pharmacy at my workplace that gives a better insurance rate than going to another one. Anyway, I have noticed recently that they have started going ahead and giving you a 90-day supply if there are enough refills remaining to cover the period. This is probably a double-edged sword in that you get the better rate, but at the cost of having extra pills if it is not something you would definitely need to take for 90-days. Fortunately for us, it has always been the case that it was something we needed the full 90-days.

  2. 2
    WiseMoneyMatters Says:

    Good article.

    I do want to note that it’s actually cheaper to work on preventing disease than it is to treat it. I’ve seen several studies where the risks of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer was reduced by 50% or more purely by eating healthy and getting good exercise even in families with a history of such diseases. It’s also been studied that exercise and a healthy diet can dramatically reduce the effects of more psychological type diseases such as depression, ADD and ADHD.

    Now obviously, there are some things that are outside of the scope of just healthy food and diet (for instance, a serious injury), but I’m a huge proponent of prevention over treatment.

  3. 3
    todd Says:

    +1 @WiseMoneyMatters When we eat like we’re supposed to eat and live like we’re supposed to live, health is the norm. Nowadays, disease is the norm. We can solve so many health problems through diet and lifestyle changes which, IMO, should be the *first* step. When diet and lifestyle don’t work, medication might be an appropriate alternative.

    Note too that diet/lifestyle change can cost more, but think of it as a shift in expense that pays off in the long run. You pay more for better food now so you don’t have to pay more for health care later.

  4. 4
    Margarita Says:

    Awesome advice. I am already doing most of it – it is amazing how much you can save just by asking your doctor to switch to a cheaper alternative. Next on my list of “ask the doctor” question, “Is it possible to have an alternative medicine that is on Wal-Mart $4.00 list?” While I did have some lucky co-pays of only a dollar something, it is difficult to beat 30-day supply of pills for $4.00. (No, I’m not affiliated with them in any possible way). They also have 90-days supply for $10.00 for some meds, but like Brandon said, it’s a double-edged sword. I ended up flushing in the toilet several bottles of pills because doctor would suddenly decide to switch meds or there is a new doctor altogether. Also, pharmacists sometimes charge insurance wrong, so it saved us hundreds of dollars to follow up with the insurance if the co-pay is unually big. As for patient-assistance programs, there is a nice long list of at finance.yahoo.com, but for most of them one has to qualify based on disease and/or income. I haven’t tried them yet but I am looking at them attentively. And I try to learn about the disease as much as I can do (Internet and library) because in the long run no doctor will care about your health as much as you do. Of course, the best saving tip is not to get sick in the first place, or prevention over treatment like WiseMoneyMatter says. After seeing way more hospitals than I care to count I can say that if you think you can’t afford healthy lifestyle, you sure won’t be able to afford being sick.

  5. 5
    ahc99 Says:

    Good advice. The best one I would say is the first one though. It’s amazing how much money you can save by just asking for the generic version. For my insurance company I need to pay $10 for the generic version but 20% of the total cost for brand names — this caused me to pay $40 for a bottle once, way too expensive. Too bad sometimes you don’t have a choice and they only have brand names and you need that medication. What can you do then? I think I’ll try to looking into the patient-assistance programs you mentioned. It should help my parents cut down on their medical costs.

  6. 6
    Sam Says:

    Go north and turn to Canada

    Generics are cheaper here than there. But when it comes to brand-name drugs, you can save significantly especially if you’re on two or three medications. You can find Canadian pharmacies online, too. “Don’t go to the fly-by-nights,” Findlay says. “Go to the biggies. They’re not too hard to find.” And don’t worry. Buying drugs from Canada won’t get you in trouble with the law, Findlay says, as long as you’re buying them for yourself and you have a prescription.

    If impossible, search the Web. You probably won’t find generics for less online, but you can save 10 to 30 percent on some brand-name medications if you buy them from reputable drugstores that sell over the Internet, Findlay says. “You will cut the brick-and-mortar — the overhead — costs,” he says. Shop around, though. Prices vary.

  7. 7
    Rex Says:

    Great article! I thought though you should provide links. Like for the patient assistance programs people should go to http://www.PatientAssistance.com to look up which manufacturers have which medications. And there are many that have long lists of eligibility that must be met.

    Rex

  8. 8
    Scott Says:

    If you have insurance through your employer that has a paharmacy benefit plan, see if they offer 3 month rx filling. That way, if you lose your job for whatever reason, you may be up to 3 months ahead of the game. Not all COBRA plans will extend your rx plan, and you may not be on COBRA for whatever reason (i.e. going to a new job). This is really only worth worrying about if you have expnsive drugs or a large cumulative monthly bill for drugs.

  9. 9
    Clair Schwan Says:

    Walmart has $4 prescriptions, and now Kmart has $5 prescriptions. There is a very long list of medications for both providers, so we should be able to find great savings at one of those two places. I did.

    Clair

  10. 10
    Amelia Says:

    good information. I was reading this article earlier, has some good info too http://hubpages.com/hub/Top-5-.....HealthCare

  11. 11
    steve zielinski Says:

    As a pharmacist I believe no one should walk into a pharmacy and pay the usual and customary price. I have all uninsured people use the DrugAssistant Discount card. it can be printed at card.drugassistant.com It’s free, no registration, no citizenship required, and is used for pets also.

  12. 12
    Hammer Says:

    I have insurance, and am the head of a middle class family (about $73,000 family of four).

    However, our new insurance program coming in 2010 is going to up my co-pay from $50.00 to $175.00. I have adult adhd; I’ve tried several drugs, but most of them either didn’t work, made me extremely angry and raised my blood pressure to levels I’m lucky I didn’t stroke out at.

    Now, I simply won’t have access to the drug without selling my house first. I have two young kids; if you’ve ever had kids, you know that they tend to go to the Doctor a lot. Now, we have a $650 per person co-pay before they pay any portion of a Doctor’s office visit.

    So, we are screwed. Thank you, Republicans & Blue dogs. You have done such wonderful things for this country, er, I mean, corrupt insurance companies who do nothing but a little bookkeeping at a %50 overhead.

  13. 13
    david chan Says:

    New Yorkers have an option of going to pharmacies partnered with NYCRX to save up to 70% on their prescription medications

    check out our facebook page (metrocare pharmacy)

    NYCRx is a non-profit organization that has partnered with health centers and hospitals in the New York City area to make safe and effective medications available at the lowest possible cost to all New Yorkers.

    Our mission is to provide access to low-cost pharmaceuticals to New Yorkers, especially those who are medically underserved, and to support eligible safety net providers, including Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSHs), in maximizing the use of the Federal 340B drug discount program to reduce prescription drug costs and improve the health status of patients.

    NYCRx’s program has:

    NO enrollment necessary.
    NO residency requirements.
    NO income requirement.
    NO paperwork.
    How it works:
    When you get a prescription from your doctor at a participating health center or hospital clinic, fill it at the nearby participating pharmacy.
    You pay the discounted price (or your copay).
    THAT’S ALL!
    http://www.nycrx.org/en/patien.....unt-chart/
    Queens
    Long Island City Health Center
    36-11 21 st, LIC, NY 11106
    718-482-7772

  14. 14
    David Says:

    If you have an iPhone, you can download a free app from the appstore to save money on your prescriptions. It’s called Free RX iCard http://itunes.apple.com/us/app.....45163?mt=8

  15. 15
    Jamie Says:

    You can go to http://www.freerxdiscountcard.net and either print or order a free discount card. You can also check online for pharmacies in your area and what the cost of the medication is at each pharmacy. It has saved me and lots of other people lots of money!

  16. 16
    jack Says:

    Choosing the best generic alternative is the best way to save on medications. Internationaldrugmart’s generic catalog helps a lot.

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