It’s easy to save on prescriptions when you know your way around the discounts.

3 minute read

There was a time when many consumers’ health insurance picked up the cost of prescriptions after a small deductible. Today, however, plenty of people have insurance plans with deductibles so high that by the time they meet their plan’s deductible, they’ve already spent hundreds – maybe even thousands – of dollars on medication they need to stay healthy.

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans struggle to afford their prescriptions, causing many to take extreme measures such as splitting doses, not taking their medication or rationing prescription drugs in some other fashion, according to “The Real Price of Medications,” a report by the U.S. Public Interest Group (U.S. PIRG), a public advocacy and research organization.

Fortunately, with so many people struggling or unable to pay for their prescriptions, there are discounts on many medications available if you know where to find them.

Below are seven ways to save on prescription drugs.

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1. Ask about a generic equivalent

Before you fill a prescription for a brand-name drug, ask the pharmacist if there is a generic equivalent, which is typically far less expensive. The U.S. PIRG report found that by switching to generic drugs, you may be able to save loads of money.

For example, U.S. PIRG’s research found that switching from branded Nexium to its generic version saved patients around $756 annually.

Find out: 8 Tips for Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

2. Sign up for a prescription discount card

Depending on the medication, you can save up to 80% with a prescription drug card such as GoodRx, WellRX or SingleCare. A prescription discount card isn’t a health insurance plan, but many consumers find that the discounts they receive with such cards allow them to pay less for certain medications than they would pay under their health insurance plan.

Find out: 5 Strategies to Minimize Health Insurance and Medical Costs

3. Comparison shop

Did you know that prices on medications vary widely across the U.S. and among pharmacies? U.S. PIRG researchers called 250 pharmacies across 11 states to ask about the price (for uninsured or underinsured patients) of medications used to treat asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other conditions. Here’s what they found: Ridiculously huge price differences.

For example, the price of Advair Diskus Inhalers ranged from the lowest price of $12 to beyond the median price of $463, a difference of $451 per month. The lowest price for the generic equivalent of Lipitor, a drug used to treat high cholesterol, was only $7, but the median price for the drug among pharmacies surveyed was $113.

Before submitting a prescription, call local pharmacies or shop online to compare the price.

Find out: 6 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Medical Identity Theft

4. Sign up for pharmacy discount programs

Some drugstore chains offer free prescription discount programs. For example, when you sign up for Walgreens’ Prescription Savings Club, you can save up to 80% on thousands of medications, including discounts on pet prescriptions, compound medications, nebulizers and diabetic supplies whether you have health insurance or not.

When you join Kroger’s Rx Savings Club, you can save up to 85% on prescriptions, getting more than 100 prescriptions for free and paying only $3 or $6 on many others.

Find out: How to Control Healthcare Costs That can Lead to Debt

5. Check on drug manufacturer assistance programs

Some pharmaceutical manufacturers offer patient assistance programs that provide financial assistance and sometimes even free medication to people who have a low income or are underinsured and can’t afford their prescriptions. To find out if you qualify, contact the drug manufacturer directly.

Find out: 9 Things You’re Probably Paying Too Much for at the Drugstore

6. Give smaller pharmacies a shot

Eight of the 12 drugs surveyed by U.S. PIRG researchers were between 8% and a whopping 840% higher in cost at most large pharmacies compared with smaller, independent pharmacies.

Find out: 4 Cutting Edge, High-Tech Ways to Save Big

7. Ask the pharmacist about a discount coupon

When the pharmacist quotes the price on medication, ask if there is a lower price or a discount coupon available to lower the cost. Pharmacy staffers are often familiar with the best discount cards and coupons for various medications and can look up the information quickly.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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