How to Save on Prescription Drug Costs

Three Methods:Working with Your DoctorComparing PricesApplying for Help

Prescription drugs are crucial to our health. They can help us recover from illness, function, manage anxiety or pain, and even survive. But they are costly: spending on prescription meds soared from $40 million in 1990 to more than $234 billion in 2008, and keeps going up.[1] There are ways to save and scrimp, however, whether or not you have good insurance. By working with your doctor, shopping around, and making the most of assistance programs, you can keep your prescription costs down.

Method 1
Working with Your Doctor

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    Know your options. The pharmaceutical industry spends loads of money to market brand-name drugs. This includes television commercials targeted at people like you, but also outreach to doctors like your GP. Often, the result is pressure to go with a brand-name, even when it is not cost-effective or the best choice.
    • Don’t insist on a brand-name. Just because you’ve seen it on TV or in a magazine doesn’t make one drug better than another.
    • Question your doctor about your meds. The drug industry uses “direct-to-physician” marketing to convince doctors to prescribe its products. This can include meetings with comped meals and other give-aways. Some people consider these activities influence-peddling.[2]
    • Do ask your doctor about options. Say something like, “I trust your judgment, doctor, but can you tell me more? Do I have more choices besides X-drug?”
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    Ask about generics. Patents for medical drugs last about 20 years. After this, other companies can make “off-patent” or generic versions. Generic drugs have all the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs at a fraction of the price. In other words, they work the same but will cost you between 30% to 80% less.[3][4]
    • In general, let your doctor know if you need to save costs or can’t afford a certain drug.
    • Your doctor might assume you can afford brand-names or that your insurance will cover it. However, you may be paying more out of pocket that way.
    • Be proactive and ask whether there are any generic versions available.
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    Ask about pill-splitting. Did you know that some pills cost nearly the same as those with twice as much dosage? Sometimes, a pill with 80 mg has the same price as a pill with 40 mg of the same drug. You might be able to opt for the higher dosage pills and then split the pills in half to save money.[5]
    • Be aware of the risks. Not all pills split safely and it is sometimes hard to get the right dosage. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t recommend the practice.[6]
    • Ask your doctor whether a drug is safe to split. Many pills – especially time-release, coated, and capsule pills – are not. You can also consult with a pharmacist.
    • If splitting the pill is safe, ask your doctor to prescribe you twice the dosage that you need in order to split the pills on your own.
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    Make sure you need the drug. Are you already on multiple drugs? Have you lost track of what the medications are for? Some doctors overprescribe, pure and simple, so be sure that you need a new script in the first place. Taking too many drugs can be costly but also put a great deal of strain on your body.[7][8]
    • Be wary if your doctor tends to write you a prescription for every new symptom you report.
    • Have your doctor explain the medicine’s purpose. Then ask her, “OK, but why do I need it?”
    • Be sure to ask about reactions with other drugs you’re taking. In certain combinations, drugs can become less effective or even dangerous.
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    Be extremely careful with herbal supplements. Home remedies and herbal supplements are not necessarily bad for you and may help with some of your health conditions. But be careful. For one thing, herbal supplements aren’t regulated in the same way that drugs are. You should also NEVER use them as a replacement for your meds or a way to save on drug costs.[9]
    • Ask your doctor about each herbal remedy to see whether it’s safe or not.
    • Also ask about possible drug interactions. Some herbal remedies can interact with prescription medications and cause adverse, maybe dangerous, reactions.
    • Again, don’t use herbal remedies in place of prescription drugs to save money.

Method 2
Comparing Prices

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    Shop around. Prescription drugs vary a lot in price. We’re not just talking about by region or by country, either, but store-by-store in your area. In one study, the generic version of the antidepressant Cymbalta varied between $43 to $249 depending on the pharmacy chain. In other words, don’t be satisfied with the first price you see.[10]
    • Call around for quotes to get a sense of high and low-end prices in your area. Ask at each store, “Is this your lowest price?” Prices at pharmacies are often negotiable.
    • Prefer independent pharmacies to large chains like CVS or Walgreens, at least in general, as the latter tend to price higher. Walk-in pharmacies at box stores like Costco also fare well.
    • If you have insurance, don’t always use it. Oddly enough, large pharmacy chains sometimes sell common generics in discount programs or at bargain prices – so long as you pay out of pocket.
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    Shop online. It’s possible to save money by by-passing your local pharmacy entirely. Look online for good prices for your prescription meds with reputable websites like and others. However, be very aware that there are risks with online shopping.[11][12]
    • Many online “pharmacies” sell fake, adulterated, or expired meds. These can make you sick. Some websites are also scams that will try to steal your financial information or infect your computer with viruses.
    • Buying drugs online can also mean that the meds you take haven’t been held to strict rules and regulations. Or, they might be slightly different in terms of ingredients.
    • Only use retailers that are based in the US and bear the symbol VIPPS: “Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site.”
    • You can check through the FDA that the pharmacy is properly licensed, as well.[13]
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    Learn to spot “rogue” pharmacies. Many or even most online pharmacies that are based in other countries and advertise discounted drugs are not legitimate. Most companies that bill themselves as “Canadian” pharmacies are fakes that sell low-quality or counterfeit drugs, as well. Beware of these “rogues” and learn to recognize warning signs.[14][15]
    • Watch out for websites with prices that seem too good to be true or that send you spam and unsolicited emails.
    • Don’t trust companies that aren’t based or licensed in the US.
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    Don’t switch pharmacies frequently. While shopping around can save you money, try to avoid switching your pharmacy too often in your quest for the lowest price. Frequent switching can erode the checks and balances that keep you safe and can make a harmful drug interaction more likely.[16]
    • Pharmacies keep data on your prescription history. These databases help to flag possible negative drug interactions. However, the system is less likely to catch these if you are always moving around.
    • Too frequent switching may raise suspicions, as well. Be aware that prescription drug addicts often try many different pharmacies to pass off fraudulent scripts. You may not be doing anything wrong, but your behavior could raise eyebrows.

Method 3
Applying for Help

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    File an appeal. An appeal is an option when your doctor prescribes you a medicine that is not covered by your prescription drug insurance. The thing is, insurance companies may legally have to cover medically necessary drugs if you can show that you need it. There is actually very little to lose by appealing.[17][18]
    • To appeal to your insurer, you’ll need to file a request with the drug information, your personal details, your reasons for filing the appeal, supporting documents, and proof of medical necessity from your doctor.
    • You’ll get coverage if the appeal is successful. If not, however, you can contact your state regulator and ask for an independent review. This process is free. Check your insurer’s written decision letter for information on your regulator.
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    Apply for government or non-profit assistance. There are lots of programs to help people – especially with low income – pay for prescription drugs. Check online through programs like Medicare/Medicaid or organizations like AARP or Needymeds and see whether you qualify.[19][20]
    • Keep in mind that your citizenship status, income, and insurance coverage may affect your eligibility.
    • Try the Medicare Rx Extra Help program. You are eligible for prescription drug help if you earn less than $17,655 (single) and $23,895 (married). You can apply online with your social security number and recent financial records.[21]
    • Contact organizations like AARP or Needymeds to ask about discount cards and programs. These generally work for multiple drugs, but you can’t use them together with other insurance or government programs.
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    Approach pharmaceutical companies. One last idea is to try the drug companies themselves. Many offer deep discounts or free medicines to people in need. GlaxoSmithKline offers a discount card program with cuts of between 20% to 40% off its drugs’ list price. Other companies like Merck have similar programs.[22]
    • Talk to your doctor about these kinds of programs. You can print out application forms on your own from the internet or call the company directly and request them.
    • Fill out the forms as best you can and take them to your doctor’s office for completion – you will need the doctor’s signature.

Sources and Citations

  3. many years is a patent granted for?
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Categories: Taking Pills and Medicine