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More than half of drugs covered by Medicare have experienced price increases faster than inflation, according to 2022 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. And even if you don’t rely on Medicare for your prescriptions, there have been price increases on hundreds of prescription medications since the year kicked off. So, how do you get the best medication for you and your loved ones and save the most money?
There are a wide variety of ways to save on prescription drug costs, but they depend on the type of medication you take, when you need it and whether you’re using insurance or not.
10 Resources To Help You Save On Prescriptions
1. Work With Your Pharmacist
Ramzi Yacoub, chief pharmacy officer for SingleCare—a free prescription drug savings program—says to look to your local pharmacist as a resource.
“Swing by the pharmacy and ask your local pharmacist to look over your medication list,” says Yacoub. “They will often be able to point out a few money-saving tips that you can then discuss with your doctor.”
Some of these tips might include potential generic alternatives, switching your long-term meds to 90-day supplies or taking advantage of pharmaceutical company discount programs.
2. Get Familiar with NeedyMeds and RXAssist
NeedyMeds is a website with a wealth of information about prescription drug savings. It lets you search for medications by diagnosis or condition, review different drug manufacturer savings programs and look for coupons and rebates. Make sure you verify the information you find on NeedyMeds with your doctor or pharmacist.
RXAssist is a database where you can search individual drugs and review prices by pharmacy. Your physician can also use the site to search for drug safety net programs (such as providing medication to the uninsured) or to find a rep for a particular drug in your area who can offer you coupons or drug samples.
To qualify for most patient assistance programs at RXAssist, you’ll need to be uninsured, be a U.S. citizen and meet income guidelines. For example, to qualify for Pfizer’s prescription assistance programs, income guidelines will vary by medicine, but start at “400% of the federal poverty level, adjusted for family size.” (For 2022 income, 400% of the federal poverty level is $54,360 for an individual.)
3. Consider Generic Drugs
Generic drugs prescribed in place of their name-brand equivalents can save you anywhere from 30 percent to 80 percent at the cash register according to the FDA. And if you’re concerned about the quality and efficacy of a generic drug, the FDA requires that all generics meet stringent criteria compared to their brand-name counterparts, including strength, active ingredient(s) and how it reaches your bloodstream.
When your doctor writes a prescription, make sure they check the box that allows the pharmacy to substitute a generic equivalent for the medication. You can also ask your doctor point-blank for a medication that offers a generic version.
4. Buy in Bulk: Get a Prescription for a 90-Day Supply
You might be surprised how getting more of a prescription medication can cost less than a regular one-month supply, but it could be true. From mail order pharmacies to in-store savings programs offered by pharmacies at Walmart or CVS, you save the most on many medications by getting your doctor to write you a prescription for a 90-day supply.
For example, the price of three 30-day refills on a generic medication at CVS could cost you $10 each, totalling $30. Yet the same medication dispensed for 90 days would only cost $15.
At Walmart, they offer a select group of generic drugs that only cost $4 for a 30-day supply and 90-day prescriptions only cost $10.
5. Go Directly to the Drug Manufacturer for Discounts
If the medication you need is a name brand without a generic available or if you prefer to use the name brand, you could find discounts directly from the drug manufacturer—but you typically have to meet certain criteria.
Nancy Butler, director of K Pharmacy at digital care company, K Health, says that pharmacists can locate patient assistant programs, either using integrated discount software or by contacting the drug companies directly.
You can also do a web search for the drug name and “savings program,” that will generally point you to an online portal where you can learn about manufacturer discount programs and if you meet the criteria. You may have to meet income or geographic requirements to be eligible for discounts.
Be aware that while manufacturer discount programs can offer substantial savings, you may still pay more than you would with a generic equivalent. Be sure to ask your pharmacists about costs with the manufacturer’s savings program versus what you’d pay with your insurance and your copay when there’s a generic available.
For those undergoing fertility treatments, Arielle Spiegel—founder and CEO of CoFertility, an online resource for those seeking fertility treatments—says that ReUniteRX is a reliable resource for manufacturer discounts on fertility medications.
6. Grab a Free Prescription Savings Card
There’s no shortage of free prescription savings programs out there where you can search for the drug you need online (including dosage and quantity) and you can see which pharmacy in your area offers the drug at the best price.
However, if you use a prescription savings card from these programs, you won’t also be able to use your insurance. For example, you might opt to use the savings card instead of your insurance if the medication isn’t on your insurance formulary (not covered) or if the savings card price is lower than the price you’d pay with insurance.
Here are some of the most popular programs:
But how much can you save on prescriptions with these savings cards? Here’s a look at discounted prices for Flovent, a brand-name inhaler with no generic (retail: $299 to $353, depending on pharmacy), in two of the most expensive cities for prescription drugs (New York and Los Angeles) as reported by GoodRX:
|Drug Name||Blink Health||GoodRX||SingleCare||WellRX|
One point to remember: If you choose to use a savings card instead of paying through insurance, you’ll miss out on those dollars counting toward your annual deductible. Depending on your deductible and how often you’ll need the medication, consider whether paying the higher price through insurance might make more sense long-term.
7. Use an Online Mail-Order Pharmacy
What if you didn’t have to go to the pharmacy and drug savings just landed in your mailbox? That’s the bet that upstart online pharmacies like Mark Cuban’s Cost Plus Drug Company, Blink Health, GeniusRX and DiRx are making.
While you likely won’t be able to use your insurance at these online pharmacies, you might find that paying out of pocket scores you medication at a lower price than you’d pay using insurance.
The only downside to mail-order pharmacies is that you won’t get your meds right away. If you need a medication same-day or even the next, you’ll probably need to fill your first prescription locally and then transfer your prescription to the mail-order pharmacy (and don’t forget to ask your doc for a 90-day supply if the savings make sense).
8. Join a Paid Prescription Savings Program
With all the free prescription medication savings programs out there, you might wonder whether paid services are really necessary. It might come down to your personal preference, especially if you have a long-term relationship with a local pharmacy like Walgreens, which offers a $20 per year prescription savings club.
Or, you could already be a member of a service like Amazon Prime, which has recently launched a prescription savings program for its members. While anyone can sign up for Amazon Prime, you’ll have to weigh the hefty $139 annual membership fee if you’re only signing up for the prescription savings and not using other Prime services like video or two-day shipping.
Before investing in a paid program, compare the savings (minus the fee) with free prescription drug savings programs.
9. Know Your Insurance Formulary
With so many prescription drugs on the market, it’s hard for you or your doctor to know what will be covered by your prescription plan. But you can better equip yourself to save with your insurance plan’s formulary (the list of drugs covered by a prescription plan) at your side.
If your health insurance or prescription drug plan offers an app, you can install it on your phone and search for covered medications while still at your doctor’s office. If a medication isn’t covered, you and your doctor can try different medications and review both costs and coverage before a prescription is written.
10. Work with a Hospital Social Worker
As a breast cancer survivor, Marianne Sarcich advises those with chronic health conditions to work with a social worker at their treatment facility or hospital.
“One of their jobs as a social worker is to help patients with needs like these,” she says.
Hospital-based social workers are used to working with patients from a wide variety of economic backgrounds and can help you find both local and federal assistance programs that can help with medication costs, along with manufacturer savings programs for chronic conditions such as cancer.
Prescription Drugs: Why Are They So Expensive?
A Gallup poll released in 2021 found that about 18 million Americans can’t afford to buy the drugs they need. But why are drug prices rising so much?
Dan McClaskey, president of McClaskey Insurance, says that prices are rising because pharmaceutical companies are always producing new drugs. While that’s great for innovation, it also means that no generic alternatives are available to these new drugs yet. In addition, drug companies are looking to recoup their development costs—and they do it through the retail prices of their new drugs.
Those with ongoing prescriptions aren’t immune to price hikes, either. Experts say that in January and July of each year, drug manufacturers quietly raise prices on hundreds of drugs. It’s not because the drug is more valuable—it’s simply what the market will bear.
Americans are clamoring for prescription drug reform to help keep prices in check, especially those age 50 and older who rely on services like Medicare for their prescriptions. The Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan contained several initiatives aimed at controlling prescription drug costs, including letting the government negotiate drug prices and putting a cap on how much those on Medicare spend on prescriptions out-of-pocket.
Yet in a divided Congress with two parties racing to pass legislation prior to the midterm elections, it’s unclear if congressional Democrats will find the support they need across the aisle to make meaningful headway toward prescription relief in the Senate.
The important thing to remember about prescription medication is that you will always be your best advocate and it’s okay to ask questions of your doctor and pharmacist about any medication you’re prescribed. You might be surprised how a single conversation about drug costs can help you and your healthcare providers find savings—both today and in the future.