Budget Guides

Ultimate Guide to Finding Affordable Prescription Medications

If you’re currently taking prescription medication than you already know that drug prices are on the rise. In fact, they rose by nearly 12 percent in 2017. The rise in drug prices is faster than the rise in earnings, and if you have multiple prescriptions you’ve probably found yourself tightening your budget in recent years.

Depending on your income level, making a choice between feeding your family and taking your medications can be an all too real daily decision. Many choose to skip taking much needed medications due to the cost. In fact, over 30 percent of prescriptions are unfilled every year in the U.S. due to the high cost. That’s a lot of people sacrificing their health and well-being due to the rising cost of prescription medications.

Fortunately, there are a many things you can do to lower the cost of your medications so that you don’t have to choose. There are options for medications that don’t cost as much and several different places you can go to save money and reduce the cost of your medications so you can get your budget back in line.

Step 1 – Locate a less expensive alternative


The easiest, fastest way to save immediately on prescription drugs is to locate the generic equivalent for your medication.

Whenever filling a prescription, or refilling a current prescription, be sure to ask your pharmacist if there is a less-expensive generic version of your medication available. In some cases, this may require your doctor to rewrite the prescription specifically for the generic drug, but the pharmacy will most likely call and ask for a new prescription, saving you a step.

Many people are reluctant to take generic prescriptions because they feel they’re not as good, but generics are just as safe and effective as name brand medications - just at a much lower cost.

How are companies able to make generics of name brands with the same dosage and quality?

Simple. Patents for medications expire over time, allowing other companies to replicate medications and produce them once the patent has expired. If your medication doesn’t currently have a generic, it may be that the patent hasn’t expired yet.

If you take an expensive name brand medication that doesn’t currently have a generic alternative, check again in the future. There’s a good chance a generic will eventually be available.

Alternative medications

One important thing to keep in mind is that your doctor doesn’t always know how much a certain drug costs and whether or not a generic is available. Pharmacists – as the name implies – are specialists in pharmaceuticals, and often better able to find suitable alternatives. If your doctor prescribes a medication that you can’t afford or that isn’t covered by your insurance, check with your pharmacist to see if an alternative medication is available.

Step 2 – Shop around

Medication prices aren’t fixed. Many people think that they will pay the same price for a certain prescription no matter where they go due, but that’s simply not true. One pharmacy may charge $30 for a medication while another may charge only $5. A little shopping around may take some time, but the savings can be well worth it.

Use a comparison site

A couple of easy ways to shop around without ever leaving home are GoodRx and RxPricesQuotes. These sites allow you to compare prices for major prescription drugs at your local pharmacies.

  • GoodRx allows you to check prices at the major chain locations in your area including CVS, Walgreens, RiteAid, Target, and Walmart. All the large competitors you’re probably already using.
  • RxPriceQuotes focuses more on the local, independent pharmacies in your area. This is crucial, because...

Don’t ignore local, independent pharmacies

Studies show that many of the chain pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, and RiteAid can be significantly more expensive than smaller, independent pharmacies. In fact, a $200 prescription at Walgreens can be only $64 at an independent pharmacy. Prices can even vary between the chain pharmacies. You may find your prescription is one price at CVS and a lower price at Walgreens. That’s why it’s a good idea to do your research and shop all of the options.

Leverage your club store membership

Many big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club also offer pharmacy services – often with deep discounts on popular medications. Of course, if you don’t have a membership to the big box store, you may have to factor in the annual membership cost to your prescription to determine if it’s worth it to become a member.

Try an online pharmacy

Shopping with an online pharmacy can save you significant money on common medications, but you need to take extra precautions to make sure you’re shopping with a legitimate vendor. A few keys:

Be willing to fill different prescriptions at different pharmacies

If you find that various prescriptions have better pricing options at different pharmacies all around town, it’s probably worth your time to get your prescriptions filled at the various pharmacies. This may mean a little extra time running around, but at least you’ll get the best price available and maybe even save hundreds of dollars in the process. The substantial savings will make the time spent and the gas used worth it.

Step 3 – Change how you buy medications

Skip the insurance

There’s still one other option to consider that may be something you’ve never thought about. If you always pay for your prescriptions using your insurance coverage, ask your pharmacy what the cost would be without insurance. Believe it or not, there are times when paying out of pocket is less expensive than paying your insurance copay.

While insurance is meant to save you money, pharmacies and drug manufacturers know they can charge more to the insurance company and they will be paid their asking price. Therefore, rates can sometimes be higher for the insurance company than for the individual. When you’re checking your pricing options, be sure to ask what your prescription would cost without using your insurance and paying your copay.

Use a discount card

No insurance? Pick up a prescription discount card. Needy Meds offers a prescription discount card that offers up to an 80 percent savings on your out of pocket medications. They ask for a $5 donation, and they offer a money back guarantee on your donation if you’re not completely satisfied with your card. What could be easier? You can also use their site to search for pharmacies in your area where the card is accepted before you get the card. This way, you’ll know in advance exactly where you can use it.

Buy in bulk

Check your insurance company’s prescription plan; you may be able to fill your prescriptions through the mail directly with the company. If that’s the case, you can buy in bulk and save. Often times, you can receive 3 months’ worth of a prescription by mail for the same cost as 1 month at the pharmacy.

Ask your doctor

How about asking your doctor for some help? Sometimes your doctor’s office can provide free samples of certain medications to help you out. They can also help you obtain discounts from pharmaceutical companies for drugs you need but can’t afford. No one knows more than your doctor how much you need a medication, so if you can’t afford it they’re more than happy to help you find a way to be able to get it. Just talk to your doctor or the office nurse and let them know you can’t afford the medication prescribed. They will search for other options including samples, discounts, and generics.

Find specialized programs and assistance

If the medication you’ve been prescribed is expensive and doesn’t have a generic, contact the manufacturer. Many pharmaceutical companies offer discount plans for patients who need their medications and can’t afford them.

There are also prescription assistance programs like The Partnership for Prescription Assistance. This is a free resource that connects uninsured and underinsured consumers with assistance programs that fit their needs. Just enter the name of the drug you need assistance getting and they’ll directly match you with programs that you may be eligible for. Then simply apply for their assistance program. Everything can be done right online.

This site even offers health care assistance by helping you locate free and low-cost clinics in your area. It’s a completely free site to use and it’s sponsored by many of the larger pharmaceutical companies with the single goal of helping people find affordable health care and prescription help.

Step 4 – Make your health priority #1

While you may find your own, creative ways to save money on prescriptions like skipping days, cutting your pills in half, buying online from websites that aren’t reputable, or simply not taking your medications, these options are not good for your health in the long run. You may even end up doing more harm than good to your body.

Choosing an over the counter alternative to a prescription is also not the best option. The dosage is different and the pill is manufactured differently so doubling up to get the same dosage as a prescription can be harmful. Plus, the over the counter version is missing many of the necessary ingredients as the prescription, so no matter how many supplements you take it will never be as beneficial as the prescription version.

Your health has to be your number one priority. Not taking your medications as directed can cause more damage to your body and put you in a position of needing additional medical treatment, costing you more money than the prescription itself. Imagine if you need a prescription to keep your blood pressure down and you don’t take it. What could happen? You could have a heart attack and end up in the hospital with sky-high medical bills and damage to your heart. Wouldn’t it just be better to do the work to find a way to afford the medication?

The best option is to always follow your doctor’s and pharmacist’s directions as to how, when, and how often to take your medications. With so many options available for getting lower cost prescriptions, there’s no reason to jeopardize your health to save a few more bucks.

As a final resource, look for ways you make cuts to your budget to direct more money to your prescription costs. After all, isn’t your health more important than your cable or an unlimited data plan?

You should never jeopardize your health because you can’t afford your prescription. There are so many options for cutting costs that there is really no excuse for not taking the medications that are so important to your health.

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