If you take medication on a regular basis, then you know the costs can be steep. But if you're willing to put in a little research, you can usually save on both over-the-counter and prescription drugs — the savings on prescription drugs in particular can be dramatic.
So if you're looking to cut your monthly health care costs, here's our best advice for saving on medication.
Always Buy Generic Drugs
While they don't come with fancy packaging or big advertising campaigns, generic drugs have the same active ingredients as their name-brand counterparts. Before generics can get FDA approval, drug companies must prove they work just as well as name-brand medications. The only difference is the price you'll pay.
Buying generic is pretty straightforward when you're looking at over-the-counter (OTC) medication. You can find what you're looking for on your pharmacy or grocery store shelves by simply searching for the plain-packaged alternatives to branded drugs. Check the active ingredients to be sure they match what you're looking for, then walk away with your savings.
Start by asking your doctor to prescribe the generic version of your medication. If a generic isn't available, there may be an alternative drug or therapy you could try — you won't know without talking to your doctor! Just don't expect doctors to discuss specific pricing with you; they won't know a given medication's price.
If you have insurance, familiarize yourself with your drug coverage before you go into the doctor's office. Many plans only cover specific medications and have tiers of pricing that depend on the drug. Making sure you find a medication that's both covered and sitting on the lowest tier — typically a generic — will help you save. If you don't have insurance, generic drugs can save you even more. For example, a 30-day supply of the common cholesterol drug Lipitor could cost less than $10 if you buy generic — and as much as $500 if you opt for brand-name pills.
It Pays to Shop Around for Medication
While you're probably used to checking prices on OTC meds, you may not realize that the cost for prescription medications can also vary depending on which pharmacy you go to.
Though you may only find minor savings, checking the prices of your OTC meds at different pharmacies could save you a few dollars — and that savings will add up over time.
Even if you have health insurance, shopping around could find you a lower price than your usual prescription copay. If you don't have health insurance, shopping around can save you a lot of cash.
Start by checking GoodRX, which lists the cash prices for prescription drugs at local pharmacies. Using generic Lipitor as an example again, you could pay as little as $8 or as much as $150 for a 30-day supply — it pays to pick the right pharmacy. We found that Walmart offers some of the best deals, with prices as low as $4 for a 30-day supply of some medications. One caveat: The drug has to be on this list — our example of generic Lipitor doesn't make the cut, sadly. Still, you'll find a number of common drugs at common dosages.
Price-checking similar medications can also save you a bundle. For example, the most common dose of Lipitor is 40mg — and as we mentioned earlier, buying a generic 30-day supply can cost as little as $8 at some pharmacies. However, if you get 80mg pills and split them in half, you can get a 90-day supply for as little as $12. Definitely check with your doctor to find out if your pills can be split before trying this. (You'll need to get a prescription for the new dosage, too.) Another way to save? Avoid combined medications, which are more likely to be name brand. Sometimes taking two medicines is actually cheaper than taking one.
However, doing the research is on you; even your pharmacist may not be able to tell you what your cheapest options are.
Look for Coupons and Discount Programs
As with any other shopping trip, you should always be on the lookout for discounts when buying medicine.
While clipping coupons isn't likely to save you a ton, buying OTC medication when there's a deal can save you a few dollars.
It's extremely common for brand-name drugs to offer rebates or discount programs to help you afford them. Going back to our example of Lipitor, Pfizer offers a discount card that lets you get a 30-day supply for as little as $4 if you have health insurance, or $30 if you don't.
Your doctor may be able to directly recommend programs like these. Even if they can't help, it's worth looking up drug companies online to see if they offer discounts on your meds. Your pharmacy may also have an in-house discount program; it doesn't hurt to ask. Low-income patients may be eligible for their own discounts. Search RxAssist to see if there are any discounts you qualify for.
Buy Your Medicine in Bulk
You can keep most medications for up to a year after the expiration date has lapsed. We're not suggesting you buy drugs in the kind of quantities that would leave you worried about expiration dates, but you'll definitely save money if you can buy in bulk.
When you buy more pills, your cost per pill typically drops. If there's a medication you know you'll use an entire bottle of, then definitely grab the bigger bottle. This strategy especially pays off when combined with shopping for generics. Grabbing a massive bottle of acetaminophen is going to be a lot cheaper than getting a jumbo pack of Tylenol.
Some insurance companies will give you a discount when you opt for a 90-day supply of medication instead of a 30-day supply. Check with your plan to find out what's offered. Be aware that some insurers — not to mention some laws — place strict dispersal limits on certain medications. You're extremely unlikely to be able to legally purchase narcotic pain relief medications in bulk, for example.
Even if you don't have insurance, buying in bulk can still save you money. For example, the Walmart pharmacy deal we mentioned earlier charges as little as $4 for a 30-day supply of some medications, but charges as little as $10 for a 90-day supply. This tip may not save you much, but having a few extra dollars in your pocket every month never hurts.
Ask for Samples
This tip solely applies to prescription drugs. Often, your doctor will have samples of medications on hand — especially new medications. Be sure to ask for a few before you leave the office. If they have any samples of your meds around, you might be able to get a week or so of doses at no cost!