How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs
and other Medical Expanses
Barbara shares a summary of her extensive research on prescription drug programs for low-income folks and seniors who are having a difficult time paying for necessary prescription drugs and other medical expenses. This information helped her and will help you save money too.
General Guidelines to Start Saving Money
Fist published in 2003; updated in 2021.
SHOP AROUND before you fill your next prescription. Whatever your age, if you have a high RX bill in your house, it will pay you to check out prices with every pharmacy in your area. When one drug store that my husband and I had been using went out of business, I called all the pharmacies in town, checking the prices of our most expensive medications. In comparing prices, I was amazed—stunned might be a better word—to find that some drug stores were charging two or three times more than others for exactly the same drug, same strength, and same quantity. Some good “ripping off” going on here, I decided. I doubt that anything about this has changed since I did the original research for this article. What has changed is that there are more special prescription drug services available, and some of them make finding the lowest cost for any prescription drug fast and easy to do online.
Many on Medicare probably have a pharmacy they always use. But if you develop a new condition that requires an expensive drug and aren’t required by your particular health plan to use a specific pharmacy, don’t have the doctor send the prescription out for you until you’ve checked its price in other pharmacies. I now use Humana for all my prescriptions—all of which are generics that are so inexpensive I can’t believe it, and which are sent to me postage free every 90 days. But if I should ever need an expensive drug in the future, I’m glad to know I have some options for where to get it at the lowest price.
Finally, understand that a generic drug isn’t always cheaper. Pay attention to this: Thinking you can save money, you might ask your doctor for the generic of an expensive drug, but if this drug happens to be on the “discount list” of your drug prescription program, the non-generic version might well be obtained for less than the generic.
Best Places to Start
America’s Pharmacy. “We’re here to help you lower your family’s health care costs, and save up to 80% at the pharmacy counter with free Rx coupons.”
GoodRX. No hoops to jump through here. Very simple to get started with a free discount card recognized by 70,000 pharmacies nationwide with savings of up to 80 percent. I’m linking you to the page on how GoodRx works. You’ll find a video there and then you can search for the prescription drug you need and click the “Find the Lowest Price” button.
On this site you can also search for “copay coupons” from drug manufacturers that provide expensive medications that don’t have a generic substitute. Sometimes physicians get these coupons from manufacturers to give to patients to get them to buy their drug. You could also visit the drug manufacturer’s website to see if any coupons are offered there. (My understanding is that these coupons are not available to anyone on Medicare.)
RXOutreach. An easy and affordable way for people of all ages to get medicines they need. The website has changed through the years, but my original research turned up this information: Through this program, people who qualify financially can get more than 50 generic medications that treat a wide range of conditions including diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and depression. People may take advantage of the program even if they receive medicines through another discount program. The program is available to individuals and families with incomes of up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. This helpful FAQ page should answer your questions.
RxSaver.com. This free prescription savings tool lets you type in your prescription name and strength to get the RxSaver discounted price at various pharmacies in your area. (A magazine ad I found listing this service said savings could be up to 80 percent using this tool. That reporter also noted that this service doesn’t collect or sell your personal data, so you can search anonymously.)
Single Care Card. Accepted nationwide at over 35,000 pharmacies. Save up to 80%* on your prescriptions. Search for your prescription on this web page to see how much you’ll save.
ScriptSave® WellRX. Here, savings average 65% and, in some cases, can be 80% or more at over 65,000 pharmacies nationwide. Just set up an account to get a free RX discount card.
RXAssist is the Web’s most current and comprehensive directory of Patient Assistance Programs. These programs are run by pharmaceutical companies to provide free medications to people who cannot afford to buy their medicine. RxAssist offers a comprehensive database of these patient assistance programs, as well as practical tools, news, and articles so that health care professionals and patients can find the information they need all in one place. This link takes you to a page that explains how prescription drug discount cards work and how savings may be between 15 and 40 percent.
The Medicine Program. Anyone who is refused assistance from a drug manufacturer and does not have insurance or a government program that pays for outpatient prescription medicines may qualify to enroll in this privately sponsored program that provides medicines at NO COST. (When I first researched the program in 2003 there was a $5 application fee, however, for each medicine you request, so you need to check to see if this has changed through the years.)
One change that was obvious to me was that the program has now been expanded to include financial assistance for those with illnesses resulting from an auto accident or worker’s compensation injury. There is a helpful list of “learn more” links to:
An Overview of Low-Cost & Free Medicine Programs
Patient Assistance Programs Offered By the Pharmaceutical Companies
Federal Prescription Programs
Prescription Assistance Programs Run at the State Level
Non-Profit Prescription Assistance Programs
Programs for Patients Without Prescription Drug Coverage
Discount Drug Cards
The CareCredit Card
IT WAS LIKE MANNA from heaven the day I first learned about this card. I’d just learned I needed two crowns whose cost was shocking to me. I didn’t want to put so much money on a credit card and I really hated to take it out of savings, but the dentist said not to worry. She set me up with a CareCredit card and a payment plan was worked out so I could pay it off at the rate of just $50 a month with no interest if I paid on time each month.
Their FAQ page explains the different financing options they offer, but their No interest if Paid in Full Within 6, 12, 18 and 24 month financing options (sometimes called Deferred Interest) let you pay for purchases of $200 or more with minimum monthly payments made throughout the duration of your promotional period.
POSTSCRIPT: Being frugal by nature you can bet I paid on time every month to save the interest. I found an affordable dental plan in 2020 offered by Humana that gives me two free cleanings and bite-wing X-rays each year with great discounts on crowns (between 45-65 percent of total cost), so I may never need this card again. But I was glad to learn that once qualified for credit, one can use this card forever for a variety of healthcare services including LASIK, veterinary, dentistry, cosmetic surgery, hearing care and more.
NO MATTER HOW YOU CARVE IT, high drug costs are a terrible burden, not only for seniors, but for all families today, many of whom don’t even have hospital insurance. And prices are only going to get higher in the future. To save money, we must pursue every avenue open to us and do a lot of comparison shopping. The Web resources below offer additional information.
Please link your friends and family members to this page to help them save money too. (Just highlight the URL on this page and drop it into an email.)
6 Ways to Reduce Prescription Drug Costs. Strategies to consider with your provider and pharmacist that may make your medications more affordable and accessible.
Quick Tips from the FDA. What to look for when buying medicines on the Internet.
Counterfeit Medicines. Advice from the CDC (helpful for travelers). What you should know about counterfeit drugs made in countries other than industrialized countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and those in the European Union, where less than 1 percent of medicines sold are counterfeit.
Buying Drugs from Canada. You will turn up many web pages if you search for “Should Americans buy prescription drugs from Canada?” I’ve refrained from comment on this topic because there is still considerable controversy over whether we in the U.S. should be doing this. I believe this is a decision individuals should make after doing diligent research.
Money Matters T/C