10 Tips for Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

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GET BETTER AND SPEND LESS

Thank goodness for medication: It speeds recovery, cures many illnesses, and keeps chronic diseases under control. But for all the benefits of modern medicine, the high cost is a major downside. Luckily there are prescription savings to be found.

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OPT FOR GENERICS

Generic prescription drugs cost an average of 80 percent to 85 percent less than their brand-name counterparts, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That adds up to serious prescription savings. The FDA assures consumers there's no need to worry about safety or quality: Generic medications are just as effective and include the same active ingredients as brand-name products.

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COMPARE PRICES

Websites and apps let consumers shop around for the cheapest forms of prescription medications. With LowestMed, for example, plug in the medication, dosage, quantity, and ZIP code, and the app populates a list of prices at local pharmacies. (For those concerned about privacy, the app says consumers' information isn't collected, tracked, or sold to third parties.) GoodRx is another comparison website that helps consumers print coupons to get the lowest prices at nearby pharmacies.

SHOP WAREHOUSE CLUBS

Warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club generally offer substantial prescription savings. Of more than 200 pharmacies surveyed by Consumer Reports in 2015, Costco was the cheapest source for generic versions of so-called blockbuster drugs.

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LOOK FOR DISCOUNT PROGRAMS

Walmart, Target, and some major chain pharmacies have been known to charge as little as $4 for a 30-day supply of many commonly prescribed generic medications. These programs don't come with extra fees or membership costs. Check to see if grocery chains near you offer similar savings through discount programs. AARP also offers a mail-order discount program that covers FDA-approved prescription drugs.

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BUY IN BULK

For drugs you take month after month, mail orders deliver prescription savings. Ask your physician if you can order a 90-day supply instead of a 30-day supply. You pay less per dose when buying a larger quantity, and with insurance, will be charged only one co-pay instead of three.

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ASK ABOUT SPLITTING PILLS

In many cases, pills cost about the same no matter how high the dosage. In other words, a supply of 100 mg pills likely costs little more than a bottle of 50 mg pills but delivers twice as much of the drug. Ask your physician or pharmacist if your prescription is safe for pill splitting. If the answer is yes, request that your doctor order double the required dosage and explain how to split the pills safely.

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TRY SAMPLES BEFORE BUYING

If your doctor wants to put you on a new drug, ask if he or she can provide samples so you can try a few doses for free before paying to fill the prescription. Some doctors may be even more generous, depending on their stock of samples.

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USE COUPONS

Coupons aren't just for toiletries and groceries; they also yield prescription savings. Search sites such as Internet Drug Coupons to find manufacturer coupons and free trials from pharmaceutical companies. You can also check to see who manufactures your prescriptions and go directly to the drug companies' websites. Many offer free 30-day trials or coupons.

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LOOK BEYOND YOUR INSURANCE

For consumers with high-deductible insurance, it may be beneficial to look at other ways to save. LowestMed, for example, posts a discount card that can be printed from the website. "LowestMed provides discounts for every FDA-approved drug," says CEO Brad Bangerter, leading recently to average savings of $15 on generics and $35 on brand names. Most insurance drug formulary lists, by contrast, exclude certain drugs from coverage, such as acne medications, weight loss, vitamins, and lifestyle drugs.

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GET HELP FROM YOUR DOCTOR AND PHARMACIST

If the prescribed medication is more than you can afford, ask your pharmacist or doctor about alternative drugs that would achieve the same or similar results and cost less. We know of one mother who was handed a prescription to treat her son's face rash. The medication cost nearly $600. The pharmacist suggested an alternative that cost just $35, and the doctor agreed it would be equally effective. The moral: Never feel awkward about telling your doctor a prescription is too expensive. Have an open discussion about all available options.