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7 Ways to Save on Prescription Drugs

By Kate Rockwood | October 1, 2018 | Rally Health

If you feel as if you’re spending more to keep your medicine cabinet stocked, you’re hardly alone. The prices of the 20 most commonly prescribed brand-name drugs for seniors have risen nearly 10 times more than the annual rate of inflation over the past five years, according to a 2018 congressional report.

High prices at the pharmacy counter can affect more than your budget. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 10 percent of US adults don’t take their medications as prescribed because of expense. For uninsured adults, that number climbs to 14 percent. And those missed meds can carry serious — sometimes even fatal — consequences: chronic conditions that are harder to control, minor infections that linger or worsen, emergency room visits that could have been avoided.

But there are (safe!) ways to lower your prescription bill. Consider this your Rx for savings.

1. Talk to Your Doc

If you want to save at the pharmacy, speak up when you’re still at the doctor’s office, says Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports’ prescription drug program Best Buy Drugs. “For a chronic medication, asking your doctor to write a 90-day prescription instead of 30-day can save you one month’s copay, if not more,” she says. Opting for generic prescriptions, when possible, is another easy way to keep more money in your pocket.

2. Understand Your Benefits

Think you know exactly how your pharmacy benefits work and all the perks and programs available to you? That assumption might wind up costing you at the pharmacy counter. Instead, check in with your benefits manager or call your insurance company, to get your questions answered — and ask if there are ways they’d suggest trimming your pharmacy costs. Some plans, for instance, have negotiated better rates for specific pharmacies. Depending on your plan, that could mean that filling your script for a three-month supply of a generic medication would cost you $3 at a preferred pharmacy and $18 at the competitor just around the corner.

3. Call Around

Assuming that every pharmacy charges the same amount can cost you serious cash. When Consumer Reports sent secret shoppers near Des Moines, IA, they found that one independent pharmacy charged $328 for a month’s supply of the generic version of Actos, while another charged just $20. It’s a trend that the secret shoppers saw across the country: Near Dallas, one shopper was charged $150 for a generic version of Plavix but just $23 at a pharmacy 20 minutes away. Talk about being worth the drive! If you don’t want to spend an afternoon calling pharmacies, fear not: Digital price transparency tools can point you to the best price in just a few keystrokes. (United Healthcare members can access pricing information via myuhc.com.)

4. Consider Paying Out of Pocket

Your insurance will usually be your best deal. But sometimes it’s not, says Gill. That may seem shocking, but several large drugstores and discount clubs have programs that charge just $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply of a generic drug, if you pay without using your insurance card. Ask the pharmacist if your medications are included in the program.

5. Speak Up

Don’t worry — we’re not suggesting that you start haggling at the pharmacy counter. But it is worth asking, “Is this the lowest price you can offer?” Even at big-name pharmacies, the question has been shown to trigger a discount or a reminder about a savings program that the pharmacist might not mention otherwise, Gill says. And it’s still a good idea to ask if there’s a generic version of the drug available, and compare prices.

6. Double Check What You’re Paying For

“E-prescribing has helped cut down on medication errors, but it means many people leave the doctor’s office without a record of what they’ve been prescribed,” says Michael Gaunt, PharmD, a medication safety analyst with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. “That makes it harder to spot if the pharmacy is giving you the wrong drug.” And errors do happen — when the medication bottle or pharmacy bag is mismatched, or the clerk grabs a bag labeled with a similar-sounding last name. While that’s most alarming from a health and safety perspective, it can also mean ponying up for pricey meds you shouldn’t be taking in the first place. He suggests asking your doctor to write down the name of the medication. At the pharmacy — especially for a new prescription, where you may be less familiar with what the medication looks like — check with the pharmacist that the meds in hand are for the condition you’re treating.

7. Talk to Your Doctor About OTC Swaps

About half of all Americans use at least one prescription drug in a given month, and roughly a quarter take three or more. At your next visit, talk to the doctor about whether all of your meds need to be prescription-strength. You may be able to swap one of the pricey meds for a less costly over-the-counter alternative. Studies show that in certain circumstances over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, may be just as effective as prescription drugs for joint pain and, Consumer Reports has found, that a simple swap can save you as much as $265 a month.

Taking your medications as prescribed by your health care provider is one of the best moves you can make for your health. But how much you spend on those prescriptions isn’t so cut and dried. A bit of upfront research and candid conversation now can save you serious money at the pharmacy — now and maybe for many months to come.


Copyright © 2018 Rally Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

Kate Rockwood
Rally Health

Articles on Rally Health’s website are provided for informational purposes only, as a free resource for the public. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Rally Health does not accept solicitations or compensation from any parties mentioned in the articles, and the articles are not an endorsement of any providers, experts, websites, tools, or financial consultants, services, and organizations.