Affording prescription drugs

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 90% of senior citizens and 58% of nonelderly adults rely on a prescription medicine on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the cost of prescription drugs increased an average of almost 7% annually between 1997 and 2007—significantly faster than the rate of inflation.

As prescription drugs become less affordable, many people try to go without their prescribed medications. In fact, a Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) report found that one in seven Americans went without prescribed medication in 2007.  This statistic is particularly troubling because people who don’t take their medications often pay a high price in the long run. The New England Healthcare Institute estimates that people who don’t take their prescribed drugs incur up to $290 billion a year in increased medical costs.

If you or a family member has been prescribed medications that you pay for out-of-pocket, following are some suggestions to help make them more affordable.

Opt for generics. Choosing a generic brand isn’t just a grocery store saving strategy. Ask your doctor if the name brand drug he or she prescribed also comes in a generic. The Food and Drug Administration assures consumers those generic drugs have the same quality, strength, purity, and stability as their brand-name counterparts.

Shop around. The cost of prescription medication is not consistent—so it pays to shop around. In fact, Consumer Reports found the cost can vary as much as $100 for the same prescription!

Buy in bulk. If you need your prescription on an ongoing basis, many pharmacies offer discounts for buying a 90-day supply.

Take advantage of existing benefits. You may belong to organizations without really knowing the full extent of your membership benefits. For example, organizations like the AARP and AAA offer their members ways to save on medication. Most pharmacies also offer their own prescription savings plan.

Ask for help. Talk to you doctor if you cannot afford your treatment plan—he or she may know of resources to help you better afford the health care they are prescribing. Also, many drug companies offer their medications at a reduced cost to consumers who can demonstrate a financial need for assistance.

Don’t add insult to injury. Avoid adding unnecessary cost by eliminating any chance of impulse shopping while waiting for your prescriptions to be filled. To do this, consider having your prescriptions delivered by mail or look for a pharmacy with a drive through window.

Keep a tally. Keep tabs of your medical expenses for tax time. According to, the cost of prescription drugs is deductible. Also, consider establishing a flexible spending account that allows you to put pre-tax money aside and then get reimbursed when you have out-of-pocket health care expenses.

Weigh the benefits. Factor prescription drug benefits into the equation when considering a comprehensive health insurance plan. You can also choose to take out independent prescription drug coverage, such as the plans offered to older Americans through Medicare.

Finally, understand that if money is tight, you may have to make some tough choices. Cut back in areas that are less essential; remember, healthcare is a need, not a want.


Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.