Prescription drugs can be really expensive, especially the brand-name drugs. It’s been stated that a pretty high percentage of prescriptions get abandoned at the time of pickup at the Pharmacy counter once the customer gets sticker shock and realizes how much their prescription is going to cost!
You need to be your own advocate. Based on the involvement of insurance companies, drug companies, and the medical system, things are bound to get really complicated and expensive. Everyone in the food chain wants to make a profit, which means your costs can get really expensive.
The goal of this article is to give you some tools to help you reduce your prescription costs.
Let’s get started.
Be Careful Please
It’s unfortunate due to high prescription costs, that many patients are purchasing prescriptions from other countries, and shipping them into the United States.
The FDA greatly discourages this practice, as these drugs have not been validated as safe or proven effective. Remember that you are taking prescriptions to help your situation, and buying from an unknown foreign supplier could be quite the opposite! See the FDA website for more information.
Lots of these prescriptions get stopped at the border from the Canada to the USA, for example. As it turns out, many of these drugs already have inexpensive generic equivalents offered in the USA.
If you are considering this dangerous path, please check for US generics which would be a much better solution!
From a medical standpoint, my understanding is that a generic drugs are medically equivalent as they must contain the required active ingredients. Please verify that option with your doctor. That being said, if the generic can do the job, why pay significantly more for a name brand equivalent?
Remember, a generic is often available when the patent runs out on a the brand-name version. When that happens, drug manufacturers can now produce a generic version.
So what is the difference between brand name drugs and the equivalent generic version? Good question! If these are medically equivalent I struggle to find the difference, other than the brand name vs no brand name. Are you willing to pay 3 times or more for the brand name? For example, a generic prescription could be $30 vs $90 or more for the brand-name counterparts.
Note that many doctors don’t know the drug prices. They just prescribe a drug, sometimes due to brand name companies that have been pushing their products in front of these medical professionals.
Be sure to ask your doctor if there is a generic alternative for the prescription you need. This will give you the opportunity to discuss any questions you have.
Unfortunately, there is not always a generic version available yet, as the product might still be in patent protection. If that’s the case, you’ll need to investigate other ways (keep reading) to find lower costs of your medication.
Discount Programs Offered by Online Companies
There are a number of online companies that may provide a dramatic savings over what you may be paying by getting your prescriptions using your insurance company and the typical chain pharmacies.
GoodRx is one online site that lets you comparison shop prescriptions at different pharmacies and then print off free coupons to get the prescription at a local pharmacy. GoodRx gets paid when you present the coupon. You save by being able to comparison shop local pharmacies right from your phone or computer. The GoodRx price is often lower than going through your insurance due to the higher price and copay. Go figure!
Amazon has a prescription program for Prime members. They offer 24/7 support and up front pricing. As a prime member you get free delivery. You can also order up to a six month supply to reduce your price further by buying in bulk.
Blinkhealth operates as a buying group to get its members the best negotiated prices. Since pharmacies see a lot of business from these groups they are incentivized to give better pricing.
WellRx offers a prescription discount card, that can we used at 65,000 participating pharmacies. They claim that those using the savings card get 65% off from the retail price on average. Since prices fluctuate regularly, members are asked to check the latest pricing online before heading to the pharmacy. This will avoid any price surprises at the pharmacy counter.
Dosage reduction might be an option to save
One approach used by some is to ask their doctor if a lower dosage would still be effective. For example, if half the dosage will still be effective, you could cut your costs by 50%
If approved by their doctor, some patients will use pill splitting to reduce the dosage if in tablet form. You should check with your doctor or pharmacist on options for your situation.
Free Drug Samples
Free samples are not a long range solution. However, in a bind, don’t forget that your doctor can often give you free samples to help you out temporarily.
Remember, if you don’t ask you don’t get!
This is also a good time to remind you to make sure your pharmacist knows about the other medications you are taking. You need to advocate for yourself. Your pharmacist needs to ensure that there are no risks with the combination of medication you are taking.
A new market disruptor to reduce costs has emerged
The Cost Plus Drug Company started by Mark Cuban has it’s goal to provide inexpensive prescription drugs by eliminating the middle man and selling direct to the customer. The business model is to be transparent about pricing and to see at a fixed cost markup above cost.
The company is still in its infancy, and has not yet provided its full offering. In the meantime, they have already listed a number of generic medications on their site.
Check out your medications on the site to see what you get for pricing!
Buy in Bulk
Just like for other purchases, buying in bulk is another way to reduce costs. For example, if you are able to get a 90-day supply rather than a 30-day supply you will likely be able to get a lower price.
Your first step is to ask your doctor to provide a 90-day prescription so that you can fill the larger quantities. Note that as mentioned above, Amazon Prime Prescriptions even has the option of getting a prescription for six months to really save by buying in bulk!
Is medication necessary for the long run?
Many prescription medicines are prescribed to combat a symptom, rather than addressing the root cause. For example, if you eat poorly and don’t exercise you may have a number of health issues that require you to take medication.
If you begin to eat a much better diet and exercise regularly, you will likely lose weight and get in much better shape. This might alleviate the symptoms and allow you to get off the medication. This will save both money and more importantly, your health!
Save money on taxes
For those that have Health Savings accounts or flex spending plans, medical prescriptions should qualify for reimbursement. You can learn more by reviewing IRS publication 502. What that means is that you can use pretax dollars to buy your prescriptions, saving you tax dollars.
For example, if one person does not have an HSA or Flex spending plan they might pay $100 in after tax dollars for their portion of a prescription. If using an HSA, you would be spending $100 in pretax dollars. Depending on your tax bracket, you could save $15-$30 or more in taxes. That is a pretty good discount!
In addition, by investing your HSA funds, that balance can grow substantially over time, providing you with a tax free fund to help offset future prescription costs as well!
Sites to do research
Sites such as Drugs.com and Rxlist.com let you do research on prescriptions. You can get valuable information on prescription drugs, their side effects, and dosage guidelines. You can lookup a particular drug and you can also browse by various medical conditions.
Both sites offer a pill identifier that allows you to determine the medication based on the pill shape, color and markings. It can also give you side effects of medications and interactions of medications. How cool is that!
For those with Medicare there are some programs to help people who are looking for assistance.
The Extra Help Program is available to give qualifying people assistance with paying for medical premiums, deductibles and prescriptions co-payments. Total benefits can be up to approximately $5,000. Check the Extra Help Program site for details.
You should also check with your state to see if they have any assistance programs. The Benefits.gov website allows you to filter by state to find what assistance is available where you live.
A Broken System
So why is it that going through insurance is often more expensive than just paying out of pocket? It’s a complex problem with the root cause being too many hidden layers in the system that results in markups upon markups. By the time you get the bill it’s massive.
There is often a lack of up front pricing in the medical industry. Why is that? It’s at least partly because they benefit by you not being able to easily shop around and go to competitors as you can with other products and services you buy.
Prescriptions are often a lot easier than medical procedures to determine the cost as prescriptions are more discrete and easier to compare. You also have the option of generic alternatives that you don’t have with medical procedures. In other words, I can ask for the generic alternative for drug x but I can’t ask for a generic version of a medical procedure such as surgery.
Summary: Top tips to save you money on prescription drugs
- Prescription drug costs can be very high, but there are a number of ways you can get the lowest price possible
- Buying foreign drugs can be very dangerous as they are not approved by the FDA. Instead there are often FDA approved generic alternatives right at home!
- Generics are supposed to have the same active ingredients as the brand-name medications. Why pay a lot more for the brand-name when there are lower-cost options? Check with your doctor to confirm.
- There are a number of online suppliers that offer medications at greatly discounted prices.
- Dosage reduction with your doctor’s authorization is one way to reduce your prescription expense
- Free samples can save you money for a limited time, but is not a long term solution
- The Cost Plus Drug company started by Mark Cuban is a new disruptor to the market offering low cost prescriptions
- Buying in bulk is another way to save. Why buy a 30 day supply when 60 days, 90 days or longer would get you the best price
- Getting off the medication would be the biggest savings of all!
- Use a Health Savings Account or a Flexible spending account to pay for prescriptions with pretax dollars