Money in medical field

7 Ways to Cut the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

These days the skyrocketing cost of some prescription drugs is enough to give you a heart attack. If medication drug costs have got you down, cheer up! Then check out these seven ways you can save money on prescription medications—plus where to get some medicines (antibiotics!) for free.

Money in medical field

GoodRX

What a fantastic resource. GoodRX is a website with no sign-up or credit card required. Just type in the drug name on your computer or download the mobile app for IOS and Android—to compare prices at different pharmacies in the area AND get coupons to cut the cost even further. It sounds like a hoax I know, but it’s not. This is one of the best reliable resources on the Internet. Drug prices vary wildly between pharmacies and GoodRX finds you the lowest prices plus discounts on top of the published price.

Click on “Get Free Coupon,” print it, then hand it to your pharmacist.

Examples

Here’s an example in the Los Angeles area, as I update this information, for 90 capsules of 300mg Gabapentin (generic neurontin) with the average price of $69.03: Ralphs: $9.98; Costco $13.36; Target $15.50; Rite Aid $11.66; Walgreens $14.65. Within just a few miles the price for that particular medication is all over the place. GoodRx.com makes sure you find the lowest price available.

Lipitor (generic atorastatin) 30 tablets of 40mg . The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of generic Lipitor is around $11.06, 87% off the average retail price of $87.16.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) 10 capsules of 75mg (one dose pack). The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of generic Tamiflu is around $17.53, 85% off the average retail price of $123.34.

A note about Medicare

Medicare is supposed to make your prescription drugs affordable. But, as many seniors know, some drugs are still expensive, and some aren’t covered at all. And, of course, there’s the infamous “donut hole.”

GoodRx makes it easy to compare your Medicare co-pays against GoodRx coupon prices to see which can save you more. Keep in mind that you cannot use GoodRx and Medicare at the same time. However, you can use GoodRx instead of government-funded programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, to pay for your prescription medications.

NeedyMeds

Another site you might want to check if you can’t afford your medications: NeedyMeds.org. The site lists programs that help people reduce their healthcare costs, including patient assistance programs and co-pay cards offered by drug companies. Coupons and rebates, too. NeedyMeds also offers a free drug discount card.

The doc talk

Usually, doctors don’t keep up with the retail price of medications they prescribe—they’re thinking in terms of successful treatment, not dollar signs. A pharmacy tech told me recently that routinely she recommends patients call their doctor for a cheaper option once she shows them what the medication prescribed will cost. Don’t be afraid to make that call. More than likely there is a less expensive option that will be just as effective.

Pill splitting

A pill splitter just might save you 50% on the cost of your medication. Because of a quirk in how some drugs are priced, a tablet that’s twice as strong as another may not be twice the price. In fact, it might be about the same price. So, sometimes, cutting a higher strength pill in half can get you two doses for about the price of one.

With a little manual labor—just snapping down the lid of a pill cutter—splitting a pill can save quite a lot of money. Talk to your doctor, first! Not all prescription pills are splittable, but the one you take just might be.

According to WebMD,  some pills that are commonly split include statins like Crestor, Lipitor, and Pravachol; antidepressants like Celexa, Paxil, and Zoloft; ACE-Inhibitors like Monopril, Prinivil, Univasc and Zestril; and angiotensin receptor blockers like Avapro and Cozaar.

Assistance programs

From time to time government programs, non-profits and drug manufacturers offer deeply discounted or even no-cost medicines. To find out the latest information on what is available, I highly recommend the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website. Once there, simply enter the name of the medication or the manufacturer then click “Get Help Now” to discover if there are currently programs and assistance with the cost of that medication.

Also, check with disease-related associations such as the American Cancer Society or the American Diabetes Association for help in locating less expensive options that relate to those diagnoses.

Check out these six pharmacies that offer free antibiotics (with a doctor’s prescription).


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Big box store programs

Many discount store chains like Walmart, Publix, Target, Meijer, and Costco offer deeply discounted generic medicines for $4 to $10. Some medicines, like antibiotics or prenatal vitamins, are offered free at some of these stores.

Costco’s assistance program is available for members only and it is fantastic—well worth the price of membership if you do not already have prescription drug insurance coverage.

NOTE: Some state laws require discount warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club to allow non-members to use the pharmacy, but the assistance program that reduces the prices even further is for members only. A quick call to the club’s pharmacy will let you know if its services in your state require membership.

Buy in bulk

Certain medications (cholesterol statins for example) are often available for a greatly discounted price in a 90-day supply. You may be required to order by mail order to get that price. It’s sure worth looking into.

Frequently asked questions

What is the average cost of a prescription drug?

In 2017, the average cost of therapy for a brand name prescription drug, based on the market basket in this study, was almost $6,800 per year. On average, older Americans take 4.5 prescription drugs every month. (Source: AARP)

Who decides the cost of prescription drugs?

When a drug finally makes it to market, drug manufacturers set the drug's list price based on a number of factors. However, this is not the price you pay. Your employer, insurance company and their pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) all play an important role in the final cost of your prescriptions. Source: cobioscience.com

How much are prescriptions at Walmart without insurance?

With the Walmart Rx Program, you can get select generic medications at $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply. It doesn't require a membership, and these low cash prices are available with or without insurance. Source: goodrx.com

Why are drug prices so high?

“For example, the pharmacy benefit managers who run prescription drug insurance programs can make more off a higher priced drug, because they negotiate percentage rebates. ... On top of that, doctors and hospitals are frequently paid based on a percentage of the price, and so they can make more off of high priced drugs.

How much does it cost to develop a new drug?

Developing a new prescription medicine that gains marketing approval is estimated to cost drugmakers $2.6 billion according to a recent study by Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development and published in the Journal of Health Economics.


First published: 9-05-16; Updated 1-27-20

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8 replies
  1. Mindy says:

    I needed to fill a prescription for Celebrex. Because it’s Tier 2, my insurance company wouldn’t cover much of it at all and the generic is still priced just as high as the name brand so my extraordinary Walmart pharmacist offered to check the Good Rx site for me. A prescription that would have cost me $194 with my insurance, only cost me $33 with Good Rx!

    Reply
  2. Patricia Goff says:

    I really don’t understand how GoodRx works. My doctor calls my prescriptions in while I am in the office. Do you look up the drug when you are in his office and then have it called in to that pharmacy. I don’t really take many drugs (mine are prescription but can be bought over the counter but my insurance is good so it is cheaper to get it via prescription). I guess my insurance is awesome because I checked my new prescription for my arthritis (I have severe arthritis) on GoodRx and it costs over $700 dollars and I have no copay on it. None. Zip. I just hope it works now.

    Reply
  3. Deb says:

    When my husband started a med that cost us (after insurance and Medicare) $80 a month, I went to the manufacturer’s website to see if they might have a coupon or discount program. After filling out a form, I was sent a card that has reduced the price of the medication to $10 a month. I use this card at my local small-town (not a chain) pharmacy. I suggest that folks go to manufacturers’ websites when generic is not available and see if there are any offers available directly from the manufacturer.

    Reply
  4. Karen W Starr says:

    Mary, you might want to investigate Blink Health. In my experience, Blink Health often is less expensive than Good Rx and my local pharmacy has agreed to match Blink several times.

    Reply
  5. Amber says:

    Great information Mary, very helpful! One word of caution though….ask those in the field and WebMD.com is the Wikipedia of the medical world – any yahoo can find a way to put information on it. A much more reliable reference is medlineplus.org and this RN uses it as a first line search for all medical related information. Keep up the great work!

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