When my friend, Mark, developed whooping cough for the second time, he knew what to expect. A quick phone call to his doctor got Mark the antibiotics and cough syrup he needed. His only mistake? This go-round, Mark had the prescriptions called in to his nearest drugstore. When he went to pick them up, the bill was a shocking $73.
Wait a sec. Weren’t these same generic drugs about $12 last time? Mark chalked the cost difference up to a mind muddled by lack of sleep and racking cough. When we spoke a few days later, he said he could kick himself. He had filled his first prescriptions at Costco. And, yes, the cough syrup was about $10 there. Argh!
Like a lot of Americans, Mark lacks prescription drug coverage. Sure, through the Affordable Care Act, he now has health insurance, but many plans still have high deductibles or no prescription coverage at all. And, many folks remain under or uninsured.
Whether you need a prescription filled immediately for a sudden bout of the flu or you take drugs for a chronic condition, you can still find ways to save on prescriptions. A few tips:
1. Compare prices. It may take a few phone calls, but shop around. Call pharmacies in your supermarket, retail stores (such as Target and Walmart), drugstore and warehouse club. Ask your physician to either hold off calling in your prescription until you can learn which pharmacy has the best price or have him give you a paper prescription you can take to the pharmacy you select. Yes, you are already feeling crummy and the thought of comparison-shopping stinks, but sticker shock could make you feel even worse.
2. Go generic. Always ask your physician if a generic drug will work as well as the name brand. The cost of a generic drug is as much as 85% lower, on average, than the cost of brand-name products, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. With or without insurance, you always pay less for generics. Many pharmacies offer discounts on a 30-day or 90-day supply of medication. For instance, Target and Walmart offer hundreds of generic drugs for which you pay $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply.
3. No membership, no problem. Consider a warehouse club. Many people don’t realize that you do not have to be a member of Sam’s Club, Costco or BJ’s Warehouse to use the in-store pharmacy. It’s the law. So add these stores to your list. Quite often, that bulk-buying power also applies to the pharmacy and you can save big. When you go to fill or pick up a prescription, simply tell the person at the entry who checks membership cards that you are headed to the pharmacy.
4. But membership may pay. If you are a member of a warehouse club, ask about prescription discounts. Sam’s Club just expanded its prescription savings program for Plus and Business Plus members. Five generic prescriptions at specified quantities are available for free in 35 states. These include Donepezil (generic Aricept), Vitamin D 50,000 IU, Pioglitazone (generic Actos), Finasteride (generic Proscar)and Escitalopram (generic Lexapro). In addition, more than 200 generic prescriptions are available for $4 and more than 400 generic prescriptions are available for $10 every day in all club locations with a pharmacy.
5. Join the club. It isn’t insurance, but a prescription discount program but can lower your pharmacy costs considerably. Albertson’s, Sav-on and Osco offer myRxCare. For $11.99 per household each year, members qualify for savings on generic medications ($3.99 for 30 days and $9.99 for a 90-day supply). Walgreens Prescription Savings Club costs $20 per year for individuals and $30 per family annually. The CVS Health Savings Pass is $15 a year. You’ll find similar prescription savings clubs at Rite Aid, Harris Teeter, Good Neighbor and Kmart pharmacies.
Be sure to read the fine print. Program discounts can’t be combined with any insurance. But you can choose to use your discount program on prescription medications when your insurance deductible is too high, or if your insurance is limited. Also prescriptions processed under these types of programs do not count toward your insurance deductible and cannot be used to discount your copay. Prescriptions paid for in whole or in part by publicly funded health care programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are ineligible.
6. Talk to your doctor. A frank discussion with your physician is the most important thing you can do if you need help paying for prescription drugs. If your doctor is aware that money is an issue, he (or she) may be able to give you some free medication samples. My dermatologist always sends me home with a “goodie” bag, so I don’t have to fork over big bucks for a cream I dab on once a week. Your doctor may also be able to change your prescription to a cheaper, yet still effective, alternative.
7. Consider mail order. Mail-order pharmacies may give you a 90-day supply for the price of one copay. Compare that to three co-pays for each 30-day supply of medication from your pharmacy. While your physician will need to change your prescription from 30 to 90 days, most mail-order pharmacies contact the physician on your behalf to get things going and to authorize refills.
9. Look to private groups for help. There are a number of private groups, such as Needy Meds, RX Assist and RX Hope, that can help you find free or affordable medications. Disease-specific foundations may also offer prescription drug assistance.
Additional reporting by Julie Henry.