5 Tips To Save at the Pharmacy

Today, I’m pleased to feature a guest post on a topic I know little about, but is very important for many: prescription costs. We are blessed to thus far be a very healthy family with no regular prescription costs. However, I know many people face tough decisions about how to pay for medication, and finding the most cost effective source is critical for their physical and financial health.

By Fabio Caparelli 

On top of paying for rent/mortgage, transportation, food, and utilities, the average American also has to factor in spending an average of $1,370 dollars per year on prescription drug costs.

The high cost of prescriptions have been a source of anxiety for Americans for years, and with the forthcoming changes to the health care system and drug price inflation, there seems to be no relief on the horizon. Drug prices rose an average of nearly 10% over the 12 month period ending in May of 2016. What is the average American to do?

Since people can’t just stop buying the medicine they need to live a healthy and happy life, they are stuck with the burden of losing more of their income to pharmacy spending.

We asked pharmacists, nurses, and doctors to share their top tips to save and found the following five tips to help ease your pharmaceutical anxiety.

1) Choose Generic

If you’ve ever struggled with the decision of buying name brand vs an unknown store brand and gone with the name brand, you’re not alone. How could something “the same” cost half, or more than half the price and still be good?

Generic drugs are meticulously tested, and work as well as brand names. There’s a simple reason why generics cost so much less than their branded counterparts. When creating a drug, huge pharmaceutical companies cover the costs of research, development and marketing while taking on the risk that the drug may not get approval from the FDA. Once a drug gets approved, these manufacturers are rewarded with a patent allowing them the exclusive right to produce and sell the drug with the power to set their own price.

But after a patent expires, the drug formulation becomes available for other manufacturers to create and market their own versions. The increase in competition and lower costs mean that the new generics entering the market are just as effective but at a much better price. If your doctor prescribes you a brand-name drug, always remember to ask if there are generics available.

2) Compare Alternatives

For many diseases and symptoms, there’s more than one option for relief. For example, diabetes patients have a number of alternative insulin treatments to choose from. Similarly, arthritis sufferers have many prescription options to manage their pain. When choosing a treatment, keep in mind there may be many alternatives at a much lower cost. If your doctor prescribes you an expensive branded prescription, ask if there are alternative drugs that work just as well. Many physicians have no idea how much your insurance does or doesn’t cover, and would be more than happy to help you find an effective drug you can afford.

It can also help to ask your local pharmacist. Walmart, for example, offers 90-day prescriptions for $23 lower per member per year. Many pharmacies also provide lower cash prices for patients without insurance.

3) Patient Assistance Programs

It’s an unfortunate reality that many Americans are choosing to forego prescriptions because they can no longer afford them. For anyone needing to make the difficult choice between medicine and other basic needs, we recommend seeking out patient assistance programs offered by the state and nonprofit groups. Many states offer programs to cover large portions of bills, which can include copays. In addition, there are non-profits like PPA and RxAssist which help low-income patients find programs for free or low-cost medications.

4) Manufacturer Rebates

Another helpful tip is to search for manufacturer rebates or coupons for specific drugs. These are savings programs created directly by the drug manufacturer and can be worth hundreds in discounts. For example, Epipen has a $0 copay program to help offset out of pocket costs. A quick google search can turn up hundreds of similar programs for all kinds of brands and prescriptions. You’ll often have the best luck with new drugs where manufacturers are willing to lower prices to encourage new patient sales. The state sponsored Medicaid Drug Rebate Program  can also help reduce outpatient costs.

5) Shop Around

As with most goods, prescriptions vary in price from store to store and pharmacy to pharmacy. Prices for a single prescription can differ widely between Walgreens to CVS and Walmart. You don’t have to accept the first price you receive at your local counter. To save time and gas, we suggest using web tools and apps that can help you price check between stores. For example, SearchRx lets users compare prices for prescriptions and find the lowest priced pharmacy. By looking up a prescription and zip code, you get a list of prices at your local pharmacies. Plus, if your copay is high or you’re between insurance, you can email, text or print a coupon to help you save more.

In conclusion, get the most from your trips to the pharmacy by doing your research and shopping around. If price is a concern, do tell your physician as most doctors are happy to work with you to find affordable treatment. Seek generics if they are available or ask if there are alternative medications. Plus, be on the lookout for doctor samples, manufacturer rebates and state-run programs that help bring down out of pocket costs. To help you do all this, you can check out apps like SearchRx that make it quick and easy to search for the best prescription prices and coupons. Whether you’re insured or not, we hope these tips come in handy for your next doctor’s visit!

 How do you save on prescriptions? Have you ever used SearchRx?


This post contains affiliate links.


14 Responses to “5 Tips To Save at the Pharmacy”

  1. Mandy Tomko says :

    I love and very much agree with this post!! As a pharmacist, this is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart 🙂 I would add one more point as a resource to help with medication/medical costs:

    6) Talk to Your Pharmacist!

    I am a strong advocate that everyone should try to find a pharmacist to “call their own” – a pharmacy they consider their usual pharmacy and a pharmacist that they have built a relationship of trust with. Here are just a few reasons that I advocate for this:

    A pharmacist can help you navigate the system to save money…
    The medication world is confusing! Who better to help navigate all of this than the medication expert – the pharmacist! I love all of the helpful tips and resources mentioned here, but for many people (especially the elderly who often take the most medication!) it can be overwhelming even knowing where to start or which things may be applicable and/or helpful for you. A good pharmacist can help you navigate all of these things and recommend or refer where appropriate to help you save money and act in the best interest of your health.

    A pharmacist can help point you in the right direction to save hassle and money…
    Pharmacists are the most accessible (and free!) healthcare professionals! Pharmacists these days all graduate with a doctorate level degree (and the few remaining that don’t have a doctorate have decades of experience in the field to add to their 5-year degree). Yet, pharmacists are one of the least tapped into resources! Many people waste money on unnecessary emergency/urgent care or physician office visits for scenarios like this: the physician merely informs you that you have a cold which can’t be treated with antibiotics, or the physician simply recommends an over-the-counter (OTC) product that you could have gotten without the physician visit fees. While there are many times that a physician visit is necessary, a good pharmacist should be able to guide you appropriately to tell you whether a physician visit and/or prescription is required or whether an OTC product and/or self-care may be appropriate, as well as an appropriate timeline of when you should contact a physician if things don’t improve or worsen.
    Additionally, many people head to the OTC aisle at the pharmacy without ever consulting a pharmacist for health and/or product advice. It’s free advice, so why not take it?! The pharmacist can tell you whether you should just bite the bullet and go to the doctor now rather than using expensive products that aren’t going to work, all while your ongoing condition only worsens. The pharmacist can also direct you to the best product for your issue(s) with consideration of your other health conditions and medications (just make sure that you inform them!)…that way you don’t waste unnecessary money on useless products that, at best, aren’t the most suitable choice for your issue or, at worst, are totally inappropriate or even dangerous.

    A pharmacist can help by offering money-saving medication reviews…
    The term “polypharmacy” has become a buzzword of sorts in the medical field to describe the problem of an individual using multiple medications to treat one or more disease states. This issue is often further compounded by individual seeing multiple physicians (ie: a general internist, a cardiologist, an endocrinologist and a pulmonologist) and utilizing multiple pharmacies. If all of the pieces of this puzzle are not connected, the end result can easily be disastrous!
    Information out is only as good as information in; this is perhaps more true for healthcare professionals than in any other facet of life! A doctor or pharmacist who sees only the medications that they deal with (either because they prescribe or fill them) is often not seeing the whole picture if a patient has medications which are prescribed by other physicians, filled at other pharmacies, or are taken on their own as OTC or herbal products. Taking multiple medications and seeing multiple physicians is very often necessary and appropriate; furthermore, many individuals have good reasons that they can’t use a single pharmacy (some insurances mandate use of mail order pharmacies or allow only a small network of pharmacies; some medications can only be obtained through select pharmacies; some medications are far more cost-effective to get through an alternative pharmacy or other source). However, taking the time to have a pharmacist look at all of your health conditions and medications can help identify unnecessary medications, duplicate medications, improper/suboptimal medication use, medication alternatives, medication interactions, medication side-effects, and more – all of which could help prevent, at best, unnecessary medication costs and/or hassles and, at worst, future problems leading to costly physician, emergency or even hospital visits.

    A pharmacist can help deliver preventative care to save you money…
    Pharmacists in most states can immunize. In the state of Ohio (where I reside), pharmacists can immunize down to age seven without a prescription and can immunize against nearly any disease for which a vaccination exists. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”; preventative care is crucial to save money, not to mention time and stress! Pharmacists can also perform routine preventative monitoring (depending on location and resources), including blood pressure checks, cholesterol and other blood test screenings, and more.

    If you don’t like what you’ve found, shop around!
    If you are buying a new appliance, you don’t just go to the nearest store and commit to the first option you see. Your health is one of your greatest assets, and you certainly shouldn’t be more cavalier about your health than a new stove or washing machine! There’s at least one pharmacy on nearly every block; pharmacies know this, too, and they are taking steps to try to set themselves apart. So take advantage of it! If you aren’t thrilled with the pharmacist and/or pharmacy that you have, then look into alternatives! If these claims of what a pharmacist has to offer seem far too good to be true, then you’re settling. I make no promises of perfection, but you should be able to find a pharmacist who will at least take the time, energy and consideration to engage with you to help advance your health and save you money!

    • Kalie says :

      Very helpful information, Mandy! Thanks so much for sharing from the perspective of a pharmacist. I love the point about getting free advice. Why not?

  2. DC YAM says :

    I’ve never even heard of SearchRX until I read about it in this post. Doesn’t Rx prices vary depending on your insurance as well? Does the tool share a price based on someone who has no insurance?

    • Mandy Tomko says :

      DC YAM – You do make a great point that prescription prices also vary based on your insurance. However, even with insurance in the picture there are reasons that knowing the retail price is still helpful:
      (1) If you have a deductible to meet on your plan (ie: you have to pay $250 out of pocket – you pay in full for everything up to that amount – before your coverage “kicks in” for the year), then knowing the retail price is helpful.
      (2) If you have a plan where coverage vs. your payment is not necessarily a flat amount but a percentage, then it is beneficial to know the retail cost, as you will pay a percentage based on that.
      (3) If you have a flat copayment, it may still be helpful to know the retail cost of a medication because there are cases where that retail cost may actually be lower than your copayment. For example, your copayment for a generic medication may be $10; a given medication may cost $15.79 at Pharmacy A, so you would pay just your $10 copay and the insurance would pay the balance, however that same medication may cost only $2 at Pharmacy B, in which case you can get the medication at their retail price and save your $8!
      (4) Most insurances have a formulary of covered medications, however there are cases where individuals need to take medications that are not on their insurance’s formulary, or “not covered”. In this case, you essentially end up like a cash-paying patient and it is certainly beneficial to know the retail price of a medication.

  3. Fulltimefinance says :

    Interesting, I’d never heard of searchRX. Like others I’m curious if it can account for the ramifications of insurance.

  4. Kamparx says :

    Hi all. I am a pharmacist as well, but work in the drug insurance industry (the dark side – dum dum dummmmm…) and so can offer some additional insight into coverage of your prescriptions and how to save. I of course agree with all the wonderful things Mandy says about your local pharmacist.

    1) If you do have medical insurance, please do check their website for a drug search option. This may be directly on the medical insurance website, or they may link to a separate site for prescription drugs. It is also important to actually log into the sight with your information, as it will give you an accurate picture of exactly what your cost burden will be. Also these websites will usually offer info about lower cost options that are equally effective and covered at a lower cost on your plan.

    2) Medical insurance/pharmacy insurance often offer many free services to promote health and wellness, don;t be shy about asking for them. They may be listed on the website, or in your annual benefit info or just call the customer service center.

    3) Even if you are getting a super cheap “Wal-Mart $4” drug, ask the pharmacy to process the claim under your insurance. There are a few reasons for this, one it is possible that the cost under insurance is even cheaper, two then the cost applies to any deductible you have and three it allows for a cross check against all of the other drugs you got through insurance (no matter what pharmacy) for interactions or duplicate therapy.

    4) FYI be very careful about drug coupons, they may save you money in the short term, but it is always at the expense of being on a high cost brand drug and then the coupon expires, your overall cost will go way up. Short term help, for long term increased cost. FYI – these coupons do not work under Medicare.

    5) Consider mail order deliver of prescriptions. Most insurance offers you to get a 90-day supply for a lower cost than 3x30d at a local pharmacy. The only bummer is this takes business out of the hands of your local pharmacist.

    6) Don’t forget there are many good OTC products on the market for the EXACT SAME drugs that require a prescription. And they are often lower in cost than your copay under insurance. Good examples are allergy drugs (Zyrtec, Allergra, Clarinex, Nasonex, etc.) and stomach/ulcer drugs (Nexium, Prilosec, etc.). A double bonus is that there are generic versions of these OTC drugs as well. They should be right next to the brand names on the OTC shelves. For help finding the right match, ask a pharmacist or look at the active ingredient on the bottle. Or sometime the generic will even say “compare to…XXX BRAND”. Be sure your doctor and pharmacist know you are taking the OTC, so they can monitor for safety and interactions.

    7) Do a regular “medication check ups” to see if you still need to take all of your prescriptions, and/or could save costs. This can be done with your doctor or pharmacist (some doctor offices have a pharmacist just for this specific purpose!) In some cases, you will no longer need a particular drug. Or in other cases, you may be taking a drug to treat a side effect of another drug (like taking an ulcer medicine because another drug is giving you stomach upset. When instead, you could switch the other drug to one without stomach upset and drop the ulcer med. you could also learn about lower cost options, like cheaper brands or generics. Be SURE to do this exercise with your doctor or pharmacist.

  5. Kamparx says :

    Oh, one more thing, if a certain drug you need is not coverered, your doctor can ask for a review to cover, often called “coverage exception” or “coverage determination” or “formulary exception.” Your doctor will need to explain why the covered drug options will not work, and why this particular drug is medically necessary. Information on this process will be in your benefit materials or on the insurance website. I encourage you all to leave this option for only those cases of dire need for an not covered drug. In most cases, there will be good, cheaper, and equally or more effective drugs that are covered on your prescription plan.

  6. John says :

    Like you i’m blessed with good health, But my parents are not. I just shared this post with them I think it will be very beneficial. My mom was just talking about how much her prescriptions are now.

  7. Sanju says :

    Thank you for this post. You truly recognize how the mind of a middle-class individual works. Medical assistance is costly, and often we don’t delve deeper that what we are being told by a pharmacy. But your research has enlightened us about many facts. Especially the one in which you stated: “generic medicines ” are as good as brand names. I was always confused in this regard and went for brand values. Keep sharing more posts like this as it will help the commoner like us. Have an amazing year ahead.

  8. Yilliang Peng says :

    Thanks for the advice on how to save some money when going to the pharmacy. I often times find myself spending a lot of money for brand names when I could buy an over the counter no name brand for much cheaper! Plus, my kids do not care about the brand, they just care about getting better! Thanks again!

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