The U.S. spent $3.8 trillion on heath care costs in 2019, amounting to $11,582 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And of that national overall health spending, it’s estimated that 10% went toward prescription drugs.
If you’re frustrated with the cost of prescription drugs, you’re not alone. Despite most adults expressing that prescription drugs have had a positive effect on their lives, 79% also say the cost is unreasonable, according to a recent report from the Kaiser Foundation. As a result, three in 10 people reported that they have not taken their medications as prescribed.
The good news, though, is that it’s possible to cut down your prescription costs substantially with these helpful strategies.
Pay With Pre-Tax Dollars
If you pay with pre-tax dollars through an employee-sponsored plan, it’s possible to lower the cost of most prescriptions. Your two options include:
- Health Savings Account (HSA): An HSA usually comes with a high-deductible insurance plan. It can help you save money for medical expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. HSA dollars are yours to keep, and if you don’t have any health expenditures in a particular year, you can use your HSA dollars in the future.
- Flexible Spending Account (FSA): An FSA is similar to an HSA. However, there is one key difference: You must use your FSA money in the year you earn it (or within a few months after, depending on your employer’s deadline). If you don’t use the money within the time allotted, you lose it.
To establish an HSA, you must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan.
Check Your Insurance Coverage
Whether you’re getting a prescription to lower your blood pressure or clear up your skin, always ask whether your insurance covers it. To be proactive and ensure you’re not taken off guard by prescription costs at the pharmacy, consider following these steps.
- Check your coverage annually: Once a year—a month or more before open enrollment—check if the prescriptions you take and procedures you’ll have coming up in the next year will be covered under your current policy.
- Create a list of covered prescriptions: When you go to the doctor, take a list of the drugs covered by your insurance in a note on your phone or printed out. Michelle Katz, a registered nurse and author of Healthcare for Less, recommends having your pharmacy number readily available, so it’s easier for the doctor to call and double-check.
Ask for Generic Prescriptions
Using generics is another powerful way to save. Name brands of anything are usually more expensive—it’s true at the supermarket and department stores, and it’s true at the pharmacy. While generic medicines have the same effects as their brand-name counterparts, they are estimated to be 80% to 85% cheaper. When you need to fill a new prescription, ask for the generic version at the pharmacy counter and compare the price.
If there is no generic version of a medication you take regularly, keep in mind that one might be on its way. Watch for drugs coming off patent through the FDA’s portal, Orange Book. After a drug comes off patent, cheaper generic versions enter the market and prices tend to go down.
Buy in Bulk
Ask your doctor or insurance company if you can get a three-month (or longer) supply of your medications. Not only will you be able to save money by buying in bulk, it will also mitigate the hassle of having to frequent your local pharmacy to fill your prescriptions.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, for example, offers 90-day supplies of prescriptions on all non-specialty drugs. As long as you have the name of your drug and prescribed dosage, you can go online and find out how much it may cost in bulk.
If buying in bulk is not an option for a medication you have to take regularly, ask your doctor if prescribing a higher dosage, and then splitting the pills yourself, would cost less in the long run.
Compare Prescription Prices
You’d compare prices if you were buying a car, a computer, or even a jar of peanut butter, so it only makes sense to do the same for prescription drugs. First, find out what your insurance company’s preferred pharmacy charges for a particular prescription. Then start shopping around. Several online resources may be able to make that process easier for you, including:
- Blink Health: Blink Health is a free membership organization that offers to negotiate lower prices on prescriptions for its thousands of members—whether insured or not insured—at pharmacies around the country, much as insurance companies negotiate on behalf of their members. You pay for your prescriptions through Blink, then pick them up at your preferred pharmacy. Even if you have insurance, it’s worth checking whether you can get a lower price on particular drugs by using Blink.
- GoodRx.com: This health care company will show you the various prices you’ll pay for specific drugs at nearby pharmacies, as well as provide coupons when applicable. It includes warehouse-store pharmacies like Costco or Sam’s Club, where you can buy prescriptions without becoming a member—federal law prohibits pharmacies from having membership-only access. According to its website, GoodRx has helped consumers save a total of $30 billion.
Look for Coupons and Discounts
Before you pay full price, check for valuable coupons specific to the prescription drug you need. Do a quick search on websites like RXSaver or SingleCare for coupons with the name of the drug.
Research from the Health Affairs Journal reveals that coupons can make a hefty difference when it comes to reducing the price of brand-name drugs. Typically, coupons set a monthly copay goal of $25 or less, typically saving individuals between $50 and $100 a month.
If a copay seems expensive, or is more than the cost of the drug itself, ask the pharmacy if discounts are available for paying in cash rather than using your insurance.
Ask for Help Paying for Prescriptions
If you simply cannot afford to pay for your prescriptions, rather than splitting your regular dose or going without, ask for help from the Medicine Assistance tool, created by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Once you give this free service information about your medicines and insurance coverage, you’ll be connected to various prescription assistance programs.