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 rather than heading to Costco like he had before. When he went to pick them up, the bill was a shocking $73 instead of the $12 he was expecting.
When we spoke a few days later, he said he could kick himself. Mark chalked his mistake up to a mind muddled by lack of sleep and racking cough. Like a lot of Americans, Mark lacks prescription drug coverage. He has health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, 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. Here are a few tips on how to keep your prescription drug costs low.
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.
Pay cash at Cost Plus Drug Company
Billionaire Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and famous for his role on the TV show Shark Tank) has started a new prescription drug service that aims to undercut pharmacy prices by cutting pharmacy benefit managers out of the equation. This means that Cost Plus doesn’t accept insurance, and it only offers generic drugs. But if you don’t have prescription insurance anyway, it’s definitely worth investigating. The website makes it easy to look up your drugs and see what you’d pay at Cost Plus. You may even find that it’s cheaper than your copay with insurance, which was the case with my prescription for levothryoxine, a thyroid medication. The cost of a 30-day supply from Cost Plus was half the price of my copay at a large chain pharmacy.
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.
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.
But membership may pay
If you are a member of a warehouse club, ask about prescription discounts. For example, Sam’s Club offers a prescription savings program for Plus and Business Plus members. Certain generic prescriptions at specified quantities are available for free in 35 states. These include escitalopram oxalate (generic Lexapro), Metformin (generic Fortamet) and montelukast (generic Singulair). 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.
Costco offers a prescription discount at participating pharmacies.
Join a prescription discount 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. The Walgreens Prescription Savings Club costs $20 per year for individuals and $35 per family annually. The CVS CarePass is $5 a month or $48 per year, and comes with perks like same-day delivery on prescriptions. You’ll find similar prescription savings clubs at Rite Aid, Kroger 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 reduce your copay. Prescriptions paid for in whole or in part by publicly funded health care programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, are ineligible.
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.
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.
Internet Drug Coupons and GoodRx are three good resources for prescription and nonprescription drug coupons.
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.
See if your state has an assistance program
Many states offer financial assistance to people who can’t afford their prescriptions through a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program.
Additional reporting by Julie Henry.
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I have tried to get prices lately, none of the pharmacies would give me a price unless I agreed to fill the prescription. Bummer!!! Of course I guess you could refuse to buy it once it was ready, but then your RX is gone and you have to get another from the doc. and then you would have to start the process all over again at another pharmacy who would not give you a price………..
LOTC Staff says
That’s unusual because most pharmacies will tell you the price (without insurance) for any drug. I wouldn’t buy from a pharmacy that insisted I fill the Rx or they wouldn’t give me the price. And many of the big pharmacies (like Target) even list their prices online. Sorry that it doesn’t work that way in your hometown. — Laura
Mail order pharmacies are NOT always less expensive. Ours has an online price checker, but it is NOT accurate. I frequently compare the cost of using them versus Target (my favorite retail pharmacy…best bottles, best service, best rewards program) and they will list artificially high dollar amounts for Target. I know because I have Rx’s from Target for the exact medicine. So I compare the two when getting new Rx’s.
But there’s also the issue of the 90-day supply. I have two medications that can go up or down in strength depending on my lab results. If I get 90 days of them, I may need to toss them when there are changes.
Also, my mail order pharmacy is horrid! They never refill when they are supposed to, one time a delivery will come in three days and the next time, three weeks, they have horrible customer service, and they bug us constantly about filling there instead of a retail pharmacy – sorry, but Target’s $4/$10 list beats them every time. I can fill a ‘script in 15 minutes a mile from my home when needed.
One thing that wasn’t mentioned was splitting pills. Not all meds work this way, but your doctor will know which ones do. For instance, my hubby splits a 1000mg Metformin into two 500mg for the same price – so he gets double the pills for the same $4. The doctor okays this and actual prefers he do it since some days the higher dose is too much for his system.
I also get some Rx’s free by doing mystery shopping. I always use one of my high-co-pay meds for these and the companies typically pay up to a $50 reimbursement. They are easy assignments that take about 5 minutes to carry out and 5 minutes to report.
One thing that drives up the cost of prescriptions for everybody is all the samples drug manufacturers give out via their representatives. And the pens. And the notepads. And the tissues, on and on. My sister never purchased a birth control pill in her life (from 18 to 50) because her ob/gyn would stock her up on samples. She had Rx coverage, too. But yet I had to pay hundreds and hundreds in out of pocket costs. One of my primary docs refused anything, including samples, from reps. He did not believe the system was fair. But I don’t want to start a debate. :-) They can come in handy when a pharmacy messes up (as my mail order has done repeatedly), or when you really do need to see if something will work for you or not.
There is a free app called goodrx that you enter your prescription name, strength and quantity and it tells you the price at 10 pharmacies in your area- even Sams and Costco. I am a nurse and I use this all the time to help patients figure out where to get their meds.
Target, King Soopers and Walmart all do the $4 generics, but that list is limited. goodrx finds them all- even veterinary meds.
LOTC Staff says
I checked Good Rx and like some of its comparison features. But it also has become a site where you sign up with their program and get discount prices of drugs. I found that it did not accurately report the $4/ $10 generics offered at Target and Sam’s Club and Walmart anymore (at least in my area). — Laura