Money in medical field

7 Ways to Cut the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

These days the skyrocketing cost of 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 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. 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.

Here’s an example in the Los Angeles area as I update this information for 90 capsules of 300mg Gabapentin (generic Neurontin): Ralphs: $11.97; Costco $13.36; Target $17.10; Rite Aid $22.59; Walgreens $23.59. 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.

Here’s another example:  30 tablets 40mg Lipitor (generic). The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of atorvastatin is around $3.60, 97% off the average retail price of $127.16.

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.


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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

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 with your finger—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 discount 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. (Some state laws require discount warehouse clubs like Costco to allow non-members to use the pharmacy, but the assistance program that reduces the prices even further is for members only.)

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.

First published: 9-05-16; Updated 4-12-19

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15 replies
  1. Sue in MN
    Sue in MN says:

    If you are over 65, please note what I have recently discovered. Prescription discount programs DO NOT apply to you IF you are eligible for Medicare, whether or not you have it! Please read the requirements on each site where you want to apply for help.
    Seems there is a provision under Medicare that prohibits “kickbacks” for Medicare costs, to anyone, including the patient. It is not at all clear whether these discounts would violate the regulations, so the drug companies have decided to protect themselves against a possible accusation by refusing to give you a discount.
    According to my trusted local pharmacist, the agreement he has with these companies to get the rebates (via coupon or otherwise) prohibits him from accepting discount cards or coupons from you if you are over 65 and may be eligible for Medicare. The penalty for ignoring this clause is possibly being barred from accepting discount cards, coupons,etc from any customers and getting reimbursed.
    I have contacted my US Senators & Representative on the issue, gotten no response.
    The exception would be Good Rx or similar sites, where they are simply showing you the lowest price in your area. Keep in mind, though, if you have prescription coverage through your health insurance or Medicare Part D, that you are being quoted a general price, without regard for your specific coverage. Your price may be different.
    Also if you have Blue Cross Blue Shield or similar insurance, set up a customer log-in and use their prescription finder app. For regularly used meds like blood pressure or asthma drugs, they may have a 90-day, mail-order option that is cheaper than buying even at the big box phamacies.

    Reply
    • plantsower
      plantsower says:

      Yes, we just got this awful information from Walgreen’s We were told that unless we went through Medicare, we could lose our Medicare and they wouldn’t take our GoodRx coupon. The pharmacy would also be penalized. It also sounded as though if we went through our Medicare part D and they refused the pay for the medication, we could then use the GoodRx. It was confusing so I am not sure. My husband went to Walgreens by himself and his Part D approved his med but it was an $80.00 copay!!! All his other copays were zero to $15.00 for 3 months supply. If I had been with him, I would have asked if we could use the GoodRx coupon instead. He paid the $80.00, no questions asked. Such a scam. Other pharmacies never questioned, it so we will not get that particular med again at Walgreen’s.

      Reply
  2. Patricia Stariha Roy
    Patricia Stariha Roy says:

    FYI- Besides free antibiotics and prenatal vitamins, all Meijer Stores also offer free metformin (Not the long-acting, or ER form) and free Lipitor… All doses, up to a 90-day supply at a time. As a family doctor, I direct patients there all the time.

    Reply
  3. Richard
    Richard says:

    I beat the high cost of medications by not using any of them. I am 82 and last year my cost of medications was $12.45. This year I had to put out $23.60 because I had an eye procedure done at Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore. Americans are the most overmedicated people in the world, always wanting some advertised medications and doctors do not tell them they are not necessary.

    Reply
  4. About had it
    About had it says:

    Find the manufacturer of your expensive brand name medication, then check their website to see if they have a patient assistance program. Depending on answers to their form you will receive if you qualify, you may get anywhere from a huge discount to a percentage off on said drug. Based on my income, I qualify for free medication for one drug to free for the rest of the year based on when your application was approved. the second med is based on the amount you have spent for drugs, which in my case, is six hundred dollars.

    Reply
  5. NF
    NF says:

    Publix Pharmacies offer several commonly prescribed medications for free, regardless of coverage. My husband has not paid for his HBP medication in years. His doctor directed him there.

    Reply
  6. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Rather than get ripped off on pharmaceuticals, how about staying healthy so you don’t need them? Big Pharma loves nothing more than to get you on drugs and keep you hooked so they can make more $.

    Reply
  7. Cally
    Cally says:

    I work for a non-profit, we suggest people check with needymeds.org for assistance with their medications. Many drug manufacturers offer some patient assistance, this site links to the application.

    Reply
  8. P Keenan
    P Keenan says:

    I have a pharmacist for a sister. she advised me years ago of being careful to cut a pill in half. not all pills can be cut as you might get an uneven doseage which if you are one something which needs to be stable may affect your illness.

    Reply
  9. Charlotte
    Charlotte says:

    When my Cardiologist gave me a prescription that was so expensive, I said, “I can’t afford it.” Since then I am given free samples for that medication. The drug companies bring samples to the doctors. My doctor gives me the samples. I appreciate it.

    Reply
  10. Sophie LaFontaine
    Sophie LaFontaine says:

    Any federal government employee can now join AARP REGARDLESS OF AGE. They just need to go to Liteblue, click on “Deals”, and then under “General”, click on the link to AARP. It’s $200 for a lifetime membership, and there’s cheaper options too. Also, anyone who is married to someone older than 50 can also ask their (over 50) spouse to join, and then their spouse can add them to their membership for free at the end of the application process.

    Reply
  11. Beverly Bohus
    Beverly Bohus says:

    Hi Mary, Thank you so much for the column. I manage a Medication Assistance Program for a hospital and was very interested in what you had to say. Couple of things……. The Good RX cards do not apply to those patients who have Medicare or Medicaid. On the back of the card at the top is a disclaimer explaining it only works for patients commercially insured ( this includes ACA policies) or cash paying patients. Second it was my understanding you DID not have to be a Costco member to use their pharmacy. I would like to know if they changed that. Also most coupons and rebate cards are for commercially insured or cash paying clients-make sure you read the card or coupon prior to using. A lot of drug manufacturer programs have programs for seniors in the donut hole or whose insurance refuses to provide a certain drug. The program used by many and will sort out programs that apply to each drug is www.needymeds.org.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      You are correct that the Costco Pharmacy is for public use as are all discount warehouse club pharmacies. However the Costco Member Prescription Program is for members only, which reduces Costco pharmacy prices even further. It is not restrictive to one’s age. Simply ask for an application at any Costco Pharmacy by showing your Costco membership card. It is simply a matter of filling out the form. As for the GoodRX.com site, the “search” function does not require any registration or signup at all. Anyone can use it straightaway to get an instant comparison for the cost of a specific medication at all pharmacies by zipcode plus coupons to reduce the lowest cost in your area even further. The GoodRX membership card may, as you state, exclude Medicare or Medicaid folks.

      Reply

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