How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

The majority of Americans take one or more prescription medicines on a regular basis. Medicine can improve the quality of life and can even be life saving. At the same time, however, medicines can be costly. With the recent downturn in the economy and increase in joblessness, more and more people are looking for ways to save on prescription drug costs.

While there are a number of ways to save money on medicines, some pitfalls exist. Using the wrong strategies can put your health at risk. Shown below are 14 strategies, with benefits and risks of each strategy explained.


1. Make sure the medicines you are taking are needed and appropriate.

The most expensive medicine is the one you don’t need in the first place. Gather up all your medicine containers, including over-the-counter and herbal products, and put them in a brown paper bag. Take this to your primary care doctor at your next appointment, or to a consultant pharmacist and ask for a comprehensive review of your medicines to make sure there are no duplicates or other problems.

2. Patient assistance programs are available for the needy.

If you are one of those who has too much month left at the end of the money, you may qualify for one of the many programs that help pay for prescription drugs. Click here for more information.

3. Use generic drugs when possible.

Generic drugs have the same active ingredient as the brand name product and are usually less expensive. Generic products can usually be safely substituted for the brand name product, but there are a few exceptions. For example, problems have been reported with generic versions of some medicines used to treat epilepsy. Follow the advice of your physician or consultant pharmacist about the use of generic medicines.

4. Use “preferred” brand name medicines if you have health insurance.

If you have health insurance coverage that includes prescription medicines, your insurance company likely charges a lower co-pay for certain brand name drugs that they encourage their enrollees to use. If you take a brand name drug that is not on this preferred list, it will cost you more money out-of-pocket. Get a list of these preferred medicines from your insurance company and ask your doctor if you can safely change from a non-preferred medicine to a preferred one.

5. Consider using a mail-order pharmacy.

If you have health insurance, you may be able to lower your out-of-pocket expense by ordering your routine medicines through the company’s mail order pharmacy. You can typically get a three-month supply of medicine by mail order and pay the equivalent of two months in co-pays. These savings can add up over the course of a year.

Be cautious about using a mail-order pharmacy until you know that the medicine is safe and working for you. If you order a three-month supply and then have to discontinue the medicine in a week or two because of side effects, it will end up costing you money instead of saving.

6. Use antibiotics only if needed.

Antibiotics are among the most commonly overused medicines. They do not work against viral infections, such as colds. Avoid asking or pressuring your doctor for an antibiotic if he or she does not consider it necessary. Overuse of antibiotics also promotes the development of resistance to antibiotics by bacteria.

7. Splitting tablets in half may save money on some medicines.

Some pharmaceutical companies charge the same price for different strengths of the same medicine. For example, if you need a 20 milligram dose, and the medicine comes in a 40 milligram tablet, you may be able to buy 15 tablets of the 40 milligram strength and cut them in half instead of 30 tablets of the 20 milligram dose. Pill splitting devices are available at pharmacies and are inexpensive.

The caution here is that only selected medicines can be safely split. Some pills are designed to release the medicine slowly, and cutting them in half may result in toxicity. Check with the pharmacist to make sure the pill can be safely split.


8. Ask about combination pills.

If you take two medicines that are available in a combination pill, you may be able to save money (and take fewer pills) by taking the combination pill. A number of blood pressure medicines are available in combination pills, for example.

9. Talk to your doctor.

Many of these money saving strategies will require a talk with your doctor to get a new or revised prescription. However, it is important to discuss options any time your doctor is planning to give you a new medicine. Ask if there is a generic medicine that can be used, or if a preferred brand name drug can be used. If a brand name product is to be used, ask if sample pills are available for the first week or two. This will provide time to see how your body responds to the medicine.

10. The Internet can be a useful tool, when used properly.

The Internet has made shopping for many items much more convenient. Prescription medicines can be purchased safely online, but be sure the Web site is legitimate. Click here for more information.

11. Be cautious about advertised drugs and samples.

Some prescription drugs are advertised heavily on television, in magazines, and elsewhere. While many of these medicines may be safe and effective for the intended purpose, they can also be costly. Advertised medicines usually do not have generic versions available, but sometimes a similar medicine is available that is less expensive or is available in a generic version. If you think you need a prescription medicine, be sure to ask your doctor about all the available options and explore benefits, risks, and costs of each option.

Once a decision is made about an appropriate medicine, use of drug samples can be helpful to test the medicine and make sure it is suitable before purchasing a supply. Sometimes physicians can also give out samples to help save money. The availability of samples, however, can sometimes influence the decision on which drug to use. If a drug is chosen for use because of the availability of samples, it can turn out to be a more expensive choice in the long run.

Consumers who use the BidRx Web site may be able to obtain free initial supplies of medicine (like getting samples from the doctor) or coupons for a prescription fill on this Web site. This Web site can be a good resource for consumers.

12. Be cautious about buying medicines from multiple pharmacies.

The prices of prescription drugs can vary quite a bit from one pharmacy to another. If you take several medicines, however, the savings that you may obtain from buying medicines at several pharmacies may be offset by the increased risk that some of your medicines may interact with one another. This is especially likely when the patient is obtaining medicines from more than one prescriber.

If you do use multiple pharmacies, it is especially important that you have all your medicines reviewed regularly by your primary care physician or by a consultant pharmacist.

One way to efficiently compare prices on prescription drugs is to use an online service such as BidRx.

13. Avoid the “doughnut hole.”

Individuals who are enrolled in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program may be familiar with the “doughnut hole.” Medicare pays for a portion of prescription drug costs up to a certain dollar limit, the amount of which changes from year to year. Once this limit is reached, which in 2009 is $2,700 in total drug costs, the individual is responsible for paying 100% of drug costs. Once the total out-of-pocket costs reach $4,350, Medicare then kicks back in and pays the vast majority of additional drug costs.

Individuals who are enrolled in Medicare Part D should be aware of when the “doughnut hole” starts because Medicare will not pay for prescription drug costs during this gap in coverage. If it is possible to keep the annual cost of prescription medicines below this limit, the amount of money paid out-of-pocket for medicines will be much lower. The strategies highlighted here may help in keeping prescription drug costs below this limit. The Doughnut Hole Calculator is an online tool you can use to find out how you can avoid the Medicare drug coverage gap.

14. Talk to a consultant pharmacist.

Older adults who take multiple prescription medicines may benefit from talking to a consultant pharmacist. This is a pharmacist with training or experience in helping physicians and older adults manage drug therapy. The cost of this service is likely to be offset by savings in prescription drug costs, or by improvements such as reduced drug side effects.

Learn more about the services of consultant pharmacists and how to locate a consultant pharmacist in your area.