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How can I save on my medication?

Ramzi Yacoub, Pharm.D. By | February 11, 2020

Prescriptions are expensive—there’s no two ways about it. If you live in the U.S., that means you pay more per capita for medication than any other industrialized nation in the world. When you’re young and healthy, you might not worry much. But if you’re diagnosed with a chronic condition, or need a pricey biologic medication, the costs can add up fast.

A quarter of adults taking a prescription say it’s difficult to afford their medications, according to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Even if you’re part of the 75% who aren’t pinching pennies to pay for a drug, it’s always nice to have a little extra money in your pocket. Here are a few strategies to help you save on prescriptions.

1. Compare prices.

Before you purchase a flight, you compare the cost of leaving at different times or using a different airline. When you shop for cereal, you might wait for a sale or buy the store brand to save a few dollars. Why should picking up your prescription be any different?

Even though most people need a prescription at some point in their lives, most people don’t know that the prices vary between pharmacies. Switching from Rite Aid to CVS could help you cut costs, especially for recurring prescriptions. Or, trying a big-box store might net you more savings. 

Don’t worry. You don’t have to visit multiple pharmacies to compare prices. Instead, search your prescription on SingleCare and enter your zip code to find pharmacies near you with the best prices.

2. Use a pharmacy savings card.

Prescription discount cards, like SingleCare, can help you reduce prices up to 80%. It’s free, and easy-to-use. Just go to singlecare.com (or download the app), and search for your medication. Make sure to adjust the filters for your dose and quantity, then select the coupon for the pharmacy with the lowest cost. 

SingleCare’s price transparency charts let you compare the cash price to the SingleCare savings for the past year. If it’s lower than your insurance copay, you know you’re saving money. But SingleCare isn’t the only one. Blink Health and GoodRx offer prescription discounts without insurance as well. Just be aware: With some services, you have to pay a membership fee to get the best prices. At SingleCare, you don’t.

3. Look for a coupon.

When a drug is new, it’s often expensive and only available in its brand-name form. Often drug manufacturers will offer coupons for people who meet certain qualifications, such as providing medical information or being insured. The prescription savings are great, but not everyone can use them. 

Some retail pharmacies will offer coupons to entice customers to fill prescriptions with them. For example, you might get a $25 in-store gift card for your first prescription as a new customer.

4. Apply for prescription assistance.

Prescription assistance programs (PAPs) exist to support people who require medication, but cannot afford it. There are many different kinds offered by: drug manufacturers, state or local governments, and nonprofits. Most are contingent on demonstrating financial need or denial from an insurance company. NeedyMeds.org is a good place to start researching if these prescription discounts are available to you.

5. Ask for the generic.

Generic and brand-name drugs have the same active ingredients. Meaning, they will have the same efficacy for treating your condition. The main difference is the cost to you.

Brand-name drugs tend to be more expensive because of the lengthy drug development process. Manufacturers charge more to recoup costs. When a patent expires, other manufacturers can produce the medication, and competition drives the price down.

For example, a two-pack of brand-name EpiPens could cost upward of $5,000 whereas generic epinephrine has an average retail price of $375.99. Add a SingleCare coupon on top of that and you could pay just $250.33.

6. Try a different medication.

Most physicians are aware that some medications are more expensive than others. If you’re having trouble affording your treatment, talk to your doctor about trying a different prescription that might cost less. 

“Be honest with your doctor about the importance of finances related to medications,” says Jared Heathman, MD, board certified psychiatrist. “Without insurance, even generics can run $4/month to hundreds of dollars each month. Many physicians will not think twice about choosing a $50 medication over a $4 medication if they believe it to be better or they assume insurance will cover it.” 

But insurance doesn’t always cover it, and even if it does, we know how important it is to save. “That $46/month adds up to $552 in savings per year,” Dr. Heathman says. “For those on a budget, that difference is very important. Some brutal honesty can lead to your physician maximizing your savings.”

Newer drugs tend to cost more, while old standbys like penicillin and statins have lower price points. There may be an equivalent therapy to try that’s easier on the wallet.

7. Find out if you need that medication.

If you’ve been taking the same medication for years, it’s worth checking in to see if you still need that prescription. “The best way to save on medication is to consolidate,” suggests Peace Uche, Pharm.D. “Speak to your healthcare provider about reassessing the need for continued dosing. Make routine follow-ups, as needed, to ensure your medical conditions are controlled and good health maintained. Implement lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, exercise on the regular, and mindfulness/meditation practices.” 

If you’ve made a lifestyle change that works, it may reduce your need for certain medications. It never hurts to ask your healthcare provider.

8. Request a 90-day supply.

“For routine medications, you may consider 90-day fills for reduced pricing and convenience,” says Dr. Uche. In other words, for medications you know you’ll need in the foreseeable future—like high blood pressure medications or birth control—you may be able to order a three-month supply. 

Instead of refilling every 30 days, a 90-day supply can decrease the total copay. Buying in bulk can cut costs up to 29%, according to a University of Chicago study. Or, you could use mail order, which often results in prescription savings. Just be sure you’re using a reputable online pharmacy (see below).

9. Shop online (carefully).

You order nearly everything else online, so why not add medications to your digital shopping cart? It’s a great way to find deals on other items, and the high price of prescriptions has pushed many people to search the internet for lower-cost alternatives. Add convenience, and it seems like a win-win.

If you use an accredited pharmacy, it can be. However, it’s easy to accidentally purchase counterfeit pills. Before buying medication online, make sure the pharmacy requires a prescription for purchase and is part of the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) program. Look for contact information, in case you have a question for the pharmacist, and for other clues the site is valid—like a physical address in the U.S.

10. Think about changing your insurance plan.

Whether you’re covered by insurance through your employer, or with Medicare Part D, your plan dictates your deductible, what drugs are covered, and your copay at the pharmacy counter. If you’re diagnosed with a new condition, and the medication that treats it is very expensive, it’s time to explore your options. A slightly higher monthly payment might mean a lower deductible or improved drug coverage. When an every-month prescription costs less, that expense can balance out.

Whether you have insurance or not, there are options to lower your out-of-pocket costs. Don’t let the high prices be the reason you don’t take your medication!