Graph depicting the rising prices of prescription drug costs since 2014The cost of prescription drugs has been steadily climbing. A 2019 study showed that many of the significant price increases involved drugs that have been on the market for many years, not just newer medicines that come with high price tags due to manufacturers needing to recoup their research and development costs. 

The American market operates on the economic theory that competition will cause prices to self-regulate. However, because of pharmaceutical patents, competition is stymied, and prices will continue to rise unchecked without regulation.

So what are we to do? Well, what we do best: find ways to beat the system. We’ve done the research and found a few methods that you can use to save money on most of your prescription medications.

Switch to Generic

Prescription pad with the generic box checked in a large font

According to the Food and Drug Administration, you can save anywhere from 30% to 80% at the cash register if you ask your doctor to prescribe the generic version of a medication. Just because a drug isn’t name-brand doesn’t mean it’s not effective, thanks to stringent requirements regarding strength, active ingredients, and how the medicine reaches your bloodstream. 

If the medication you need is a name brand without a generic version available, you can often find discounts directly from the drug manufacturer if you meet certain geographic or income criteria. Your pharmacist can help you identify patient assistance programs, or you can go online yourself to search manufacturer discount programs. 

When Possible: Buy in Bulk

In addition to the convenience of needing fewer refills, you can save a surprising amount of money by getting 90-day supplies of your regular medications. For example, three 30-day refills on a generic drug at CVS could cost you $10 each, totaling $30. Yet the same medication dispensed for 90 days would only cost $15. That’s a savings of 50%!

Free Prescription Savings Cards

Free prescription savings programs can allow you to search for the drug you need online and then see which pharmacy in your area offers the drug at the best price. The most popular programs include GoodRx, Blink Health, and WellRX. The catch is that if you use a prescription savings card from these programs, you won’t be able to also use your insurance. So you might want to use the card if your insurance doesn’t cover the medication or if the card offers a lower price than your typical co-pay. However, if you choose to use the card over your insurance, you’ll miss out on those dollars counting toward your annual deductible. If you take the medication regularly, consider whether paying the higher price through insurance might make more sense long-term.

man's hand holds a Medicare card with a white backgroundExplore Discount Programs

Subscribing to a prescription savings plan can often be a great way to save money. The Walgreens Prescription Savings Club costs $20 per year and lets you fill prescriptions for generic drugs for a low, set cost (between $7.50-$15 for a 30-day supply, or $15-$30 for a 90-day supply). Walmart’s Prescription Program is free to use, and makes a selection of drugs available for $4 for a month’s supply, or $10 for a 90-day supply. If you already subscribe to Amazon Prime, they just launched a prescription savings plan as well. (Just take note: Prime has a $139 annual fee, which would be a bit high if you’re not using other Prime services such as video and free shipping.)

Many pharmacies and even supermarket chains like Kroger and Publix offer their own plans, but before you sign up be sure to compare the savings (minus whatever fee they charge) with the free prescription drug savings programs that are out there.

Use an Online Mail-Order Pharmacy

Thanks to the pandemic, there is a slew of online pharmacy newcomers that could save you money on prescription medications. Companies like Cost Plus Drug Company, Blink Health, GeniusRX, and DiRX often offer lower prices than you’d pay through insurance. There are two downsides, however: You can’t get your meds right away, and you likely can’t use your insurance with an online pharmacy (which brings us back to the deductible issue.)

Be Internet Savvy

Discounts are out there to be found, and two online tools in particular can help. NeedyMeds is a website that lets you search for medications by diagnosis or condition, review different drug manufacturer savings programs, and look for coupons and rebates. This can be a great first step to saving on your prescriptions, but be sure to verify the information you find with your doctor or pharmacist before you make any changes.

RXAssist is a database where you can search individual drugs and review prices by pharmacy. It can also be a helpful resource for finding patient assistance programs. To qualify for most patient assistance programs with RXAssist, however, you’ll need to be uninsured, be a U.S. citizen, and meet income guidelines. 

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