Prescription medications, when covered by a good insurance plan, can be affordably priced so that their costs can be taken into account when budgeting. When they’re not covered by insurance, however, the price of prescriptions can blow a budget completely out of whack. The fact is, some medications are so expensive that most patients simply cannot afford them without insurance, rendering them unable to adequately manage their health and well being.
My son is allergic to eggs and nuts, and he’s required to have an EpiPen stored at the school and also with him. And because we are freelancers, our insurance doesn’t cover the cost of the injectors. Those injectors are $650 a set. What makes it worst is that the medication expires every 18 months, so we have to fork out $1,300 every year and a half.
Many people, like us, are unfortunately not among those fortunate enough to have prescription coverage offering affordable co-pays. We are at the mercy of drug pricing to determine whether we can afford the medications necessary to keep us and our families healthy. In our case, the EpiPen could actually mean saving my son’s life in an emergency.
Those who carry the burden of high-priced prescriptions may have:
- no health insurance at all
- a high deductible
- basic insurance that doesn’t cover many drugs bigger and better plans cover
- been prescribed a drug that is not covered by insurance
While solutions are available to provide a bit of relief to those footing large - sometimes staggeringly expensive - prescription medication bills, it takes awareness, forethought, action, research and tenacity to procure more affordable prices.
So what can we do?
Here’s some advice to help you avoid being snowed under by high prescription prices:
Talk frankly with your doctor - Ask your doctor about its approximate cost when she is prescribing a medication for you. If it’s prohibitively priced, ask if she can prescribe a generic equivalent or prescribe a similar medication from one of those pharmacy $4.00/month supply lists. Most doctors are happy to do what they can to ensure that you are prescribed medication you can actually afford to take. They only prescribe the name brand stuff because that’s what they think patients want and that’s what immediately comes to their mind. If you take the time to ask, your doctor can likely find an equivalent that’s cheaper for you.
Consider mail-order - Even if your prescription is covered, your insurance may offer a mail order option that can save you significantly; e.g., provide a three-month supply of your medication for the cost of filling it once at your local pharmacy. There are many other alternatives too. Even Amazon has a mail-in prescription service now and a simple search online turns up a dozen other options. Since you are routinely paying for these prescriptions, it really pays to shop for the lowest cost method of getting the drugs because every discount you find is multiplied for each delivery. Such mail-order prescription services can be conveniently managed online and send reminders when it’s time to refill or allow you to opt-in for automatic refill.
Compare pricing at several pharmacies - Some good ol’ price-shopping can help keep your wallet fat and healthy. You may be able to inquire as to the price before the prescription is filled. That’s what I like about price shopping online. I can be in the comforts of my home and try out all sorts of combinations without the person on the other end feeling annoyed.
That’s not to say that brick and mortar stores are bad though. Be certain to check local warehouse clubs, like Costco, too. Their medication prices can be dramatically lower than “regular” pharmacies and you may not need to be a member of the club to use their pharmacy. You may also be able to receive your warehouse club prescriptions through the mail.
Look into discount drug programs - These are an extremely appealing choice for those without prescription coverage. These cards are completely free and use the "power in numbers" approach to get pharmacies to offer savings to members of their group. In general, you simply print out a card or some information, which you present at your pharmacy to receive your discount. You can search for your medication on their site by name, dosage, and number of days. Choose your preferred pharmacy and it will quote the price you’ll be charged for the medication. Discount drug programs like these can be found in abundance online:
GoodRX.com is one I’ve used before. In fact, I just landed on this site because I was at CVS one time and they wanted $80 for an antibiotic that my doctor prescribed my wife. When the pharmacist asked for payment, I quickly searched the web for a discount. Luckily, GoodRx lets you sign up right on the phone and I could use the membership code immediately. Discounts will vary from drug to drug, but I remember I got a discount of something crazy like 80 or 90% off. The savings were so incredibly even the pharmacist jotted down the website’s name so he could recommend it to his customers in the future.
There are many of these savings programs out there, so confirm with the pharmacy about their acceptance of the plan and the savings you'll receive before paying for your prescription. When I looked for mine, the pharmacists could type in the membership number and have the price changed in the system instantly. Obviously, you need to go when the store isn’t busy. I imagine no one will be happy if you sat there asking the pharmacist to try different numbers to check prices while you hold up a long line of customers.
Some pharmacies, like CVS and Walgreens, even offer their own company discount programs. It’s worth investigating online or in-person to learn what savings your local pharmacies offer on health care expenses.
It can be scary to find yourself in need of medication you’re unable to afford. I know I was shocked when I saw the $80 price tag for what I thought was a fairly common antibiotic for my wife. These suggestions will help you find more affordable solutions.
How do you save on prescription medications?