Seven strategies for saving money on prescription drugs

In 2015, Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the exclusive US marketing rights to a drug called Daraprim. The drug, which has been FDA-approved since 1953, is an anti-malarial/antiparasitic and is used primarily to treat toxoplasmosis – a condition that is potentially fatal to those with a compromised immune system, such as those with HIV/AIDS.

You’ve probably heard of Turing Pharmaceuticals because immediately after acquiring the rights to Daraprim the company raised the price of each dose from $13.50 to $750, a 5,556 percent increase.

The outrage was deafening. And while Turing eventually bowed to public pressure and reduced the cost of the drug, pharmaceuticals in general remain almost cripplingly expensive. Prescription drugs are so expensive, in fact, that many consumers simply can’t afford them. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between 20 to 30 percent of all prescriptions written by doctors are never filled.

That’s a huge problem. If your doctor thinks you need to take a certain medication, you should really be taking that medication. The CDC also estimates that patients failing to take their prescribed medications create as much as $289 billion in additional annual health care costs.

If you’ve got a prescription that comes with a high price tag, don’t ignore it! Instead, try these strategies for saving money on prescription drugs.

Go generic

When your doctor writes out your prescription, ask if there’s a generic version available. Generics are required to function just as well as their name brand counterparts and they’re usually significantly cheaper.

Buy bulk

If your prescription is long-term, consider buying in 90 day quantities. Just like pretty much every other purchasable good, buying prescription drugs in bulk will usually save you money.

Check prices

Different pharmacies have different prices. Just because your favorite pharmacy sells one drug at a low rate, doesn’t mean it’s got the best rates for other drugs you may need. Call around or, even better, use an online price-comparison tool like (which also has a handy smartphone app). Check the prices at every pharmacy in your area. If you’ve got multiple prescriptions you may have to make multiple trips, but as the price for some drugs can vary as much as $100 from pharmacy to pharmacy, it’s worth the extra effort.

Avoid chains

In a price study conducted by Consumer Reports, the most expensive out-of-pocket prescriptions tended to be found at national pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS. The least expensive, on average, were online pharmacies, local independents, and bulk retailers, such as Costco and Sam’s Club. That isn’t to say you can’t get a fair price at the nearby chain, just that you should be sure to check your other options first.

Try online

Speaking of online pharmacies, in much the same way you can often save money purchasing your favorite electronics and assorted dog treats through Amazon, you can save significant money by filling prescriptions through online pharmacies. Unfortunately, some online pharmacies are scams. To protect yourself, make sure that the pharmacy you choose is located in the United States and has been verified as a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS). Also, keep in mind, filling a prescription online means that it will take longer to arrive, so this may be a better option for recurring medications.   

Check the out-of-pocket price

If you do have insurance that covers your prescription, check the out-of-pocket price. Many insurance plans have a flat copay that only changes depending on where the drug falls on a predetermined pricing tier. Some drugs, however, are actually cheaper than the lowest copay. Never pay more than you have to – especially for drugs.

Ask for deals

You probably don’t think you can negotiate prices on prescription drugs, but actually, you can. At the very least, you can ask for a discount and you’d probably be surprised by how often you’ll get one. Many pharmacies have discounts available, but they can’t offer unless you ask. It’s sort of like those secret menus at fast food restaurants, only instead of a burrito wrapped in a quesadilla, you get to pay less for your medications. Not bad, right?

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.