Healthcare cost concept using US Dollars with white medicine pills spilling from medicine bottle.

8 Easy Ways to Slash the High Cost of Prescription Drugs in 2021

We know that the cost of just about everything is on the rise. The shocking news is that the cost of prescription drugs is increasing at more than double the rate of inflation, according to AARP.

Healthcare cost concept using US Dollars with white medicine pills spilling from medicine bottle.

There’s no denying it—the skyrocketing cost of some prescription drugs is enough to give you a heart attack. If medication drug costs have gotten you down, cheer up! Then check out these ways, updated for 2021, that you really can save a lot of money on prescription medications—plus where to get some medicines (antibiotics!) for free.

1. GoodRX

What a fantastic resource. GoodRX is a website with no sign-up or credit card required. You can easily access the site on your computer, or download the mobile app for IOS and Android.

First, set your location using your address and or zip code. Next, type in the drug name in the space provided. You can easily compare prices at different pharmacies near you  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 $137.42: Costco $9.20; Ralph’s $9.29; Walgreens $15.21; Walmart $18.29; Target (CVS) $22.00. 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 atorvastatin) 30 tablets of 40mg . The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of generic Lipitor is around $6.68, 89% off the average retail price of $64.37.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir) 10 capsules of 75mg (one dose pack). The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of generic Tamiflu is around $23.70, 75% off the average retail price of $95.74.

Give GoodRX a spin and see if I’m not right about this!

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.

2. Extra Help

Extra Help is a program for Medicare beneficiaries who qualify for extra help paying for their monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and co-payments related to Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage). For those who qualify, Extra Help is worth about $5,000 per year. To qualify for Extra Help, you must be receiving Medicare, have limited resources and income, and reside in one of the 50 States or the District of Columbia. Find out if you qualify.

3. 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. The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card may save you up to 80% off the cash price of your prescriptions, OTC medications, and pet prescriptions purchased from a pharmacy.

4. 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.

5. 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. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers additional information here: Best Practices for Tablet Splitting.

6. 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.

7. Free or $4.00 prescriptions

Getting sick is terrible, but here’s some news that will help your bank account feel a little better. Some chain pharmacies across the country offer free or extremely cheap antibiotics to their customers even without insurance. Just be clear on this: You wil need a valid prescription to get free antibiotics.

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.

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

Costco’s Member Prescription 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.

8. 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 7-8-21

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10 replies
  1. Jaime Cole says:

    Another suggestion I would add is take steps to improve your health. A year and a half ago I had a bout of high blood pressure 179/100. Instead of immediately assuming I needed medication, I increased my water consumption to combat the real reason: dehydration. It took a few days, but it came down to normal and I didn’t need medication. Losing weight and improving your diet can also stave off having to take medication, whic have unpleasant side effects.

    Reply
  2. Barbara says:

    Hi, Mary,
    Where I live in Massachusetts, State Law requires doctors to write prescriptions for the generic version of a drug first, if one is available. Or, they can choose to write for the labeled drug. Always ask if the generic is available. Also, I use Walgreens for my meds, with their member card and my insurance.

    Reply
  3. Dorothea Giordano says:

    In addition to Good-RX, there is another option I have used that sometimes has excellent prices on certain drugs. It is called Blink Health. Check it out! You pay Blink online, and then head to a participating pharmacy to show your code that Blink sends and pick up your prescription.

    Reply
  4. Patricia Roy says:

    As a family physician, I direct my patients to Good-Rx, and sometimes look up the drug price for them, while I am still in the room with them. The worst, most offensive case, I discovered while doing this was for a generic headache medication. I was shocked when a patient told me her CO-PAY was almost $400 every 90 days! At Good-Rx, paying the whole thing, totally out-of-pocket, she could get the whole 90-day prescription, for $17.52 – $19.00, at various local pharmacies, and a couple local pharmacies were charging over $2000!!!!
    PLEASE USE GOOD-RX!!!!
    I have no idea how they manage to remain in business, but they have been around for more than 5 years, faithfully supplying the unwitting public with lower priced meds.
    God Bless’ Em!

    Reply
  5. Cally Ross says:

    As my marketplace insurance plan changes from year-to-year, i’ve had trouble (and sticker shock) over the cost of some of my medications.
    another way I’ve cut costs is by asking at the pharmacy if the “cash price” is less than my insurance cost. I’ve been amazed at the difference in price! One prescription is $8 cash price, and $40 with insurance! what the heck?!

    Reply
    • Patricia Roy says:

      This is not uncommon at all. Often the meds are covered by your insurance, but through an entity called a “Pharmacy Benefits Manager”. They contract with your insurance plan to manage all your med benefits. Among their strategies to do this profitably is that they will charge your contracted co-pay, no matter the cost of the drug. MANY drugs cost less than the typical co-pays (remember Walmart and $4 copay….they are still making money on some of these drugs!) and so it ALWAYS pays to ask if GoodRx, or ca$h is cheaper!!!

      Reply
  6. Marion says:

    Lately, the biggest savings I have found for prescriptions is going directly to the manufacturer’s website. Two of my recent medications had offers for people with high copays or deductibles with insurance. One of them went from $100 a month to $10 a month.

    Reply

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