How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

Medications aren’t just for older adults. Nearly 2/3 (61%) of millennials take at least one prescription drug. The most common prescriptions for this population are for anti-anxiety medications (31%), antidepressants (20%), birth control (18%) and pain/anti-inflammatory meds (18%). As people get older, they’re more likely to take more meds. For instance, one-third of adults 50 to 64 and more than half of adults 65 and older take four or more prescription drugs.

Millennials spend an average of $252 per year on prescriptions, and that number rises significantly as people age and/or get ill.

Health care insurance doesn’t always cover all of prescription drug costs, but there are ways to save. Instead of just filling a prescription at the pharmacy with no questions asked, Chad Worz, executive director of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists in Alexandria, Virginia, suggests, “start by talking through alternatives with the prescriber or pharmacist. Are there generic versions of the drug being prescribed? Or if there isn’t a generic for the specific drug, is there a generic for another drug in the same class that might be a viable alternative?”

[SEE: 11 Foods Not to Mix With Prescription Medications.]

How to Save Money on Prescriptions

Prescription medication expenses can be overwhelming, but these three tips might help reduce the burden:

— Investigate discount programs.

— Form relationships with physicians and pharmacists.

— Take the drugs that you are prescribed correctly.

Investigate Discount Programs

Several discount programs, websites, cards and apps are designed to help consumers get the lowest prices for their prescription medications. These include GoodRxScriptco, , Amazon Prime Rx Savings and SingleCare® Rx.

While these sources can be useful, T.J. Griffin, chief pharmacy officer at PharMerica, a national pharmacy provider with a focus on senior care, notes that “these are good if you don’t have insurance, as they might give you a discount. However, you can’t use them in conjunction with your insurance.” Not all cards or programs provide the same discounts, so it’s important to do your homework before using any of these.

It’s okay to shop around and look at mail order and various websites and services to find discounts. However, Worz stresses that getting medications from multiple sources “eliminates the safety net of having all medications filled at one pharmacy.”

For example, it’s important to have a complete and up-to-date list of your medications to share with your prescriber and/or pharmacist. This will make it easier for the pharmacist to identify duplicate medications, drugs that may have interactions and other medication-related issues. At the same time, it can help reduce trips to the pharmacy and keep refills from falling through the cracks.

Giving your SingleCare® Rx an up-to-date list can ultimately can save you money because they will be able to identify any duplicate or old prescriptions. This also can prevent what Worz calls a “prescribing cascade.” This happens when one medication causes side effects that are misdiagnosed as a new problem, so another drug is prescribed to address that problem. At the end of the day, he says, “if you are taking four drugs but can get by on two, you’re going to save money.”

[SEE: Drinks to Boost the Immune System.]

A few additional ways to reduce drug costs include:

— Check with your insurance company. Some insurance drug plans may offer discounts on some medications if plan members buy directly from the insurer instead of a pharmacy. Most specifically, this may apply to government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid.

— From time to time, especially when your health changes, have your pharmacist review the medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter products and supplements. They might be able to identify cost-saving opportunities, such as a newly available generic for a brand name drug you’re taking.

— If you present a prescription to the pharmacist and the drug isn’t covered, find out why. Instead of paying out of pocket or just not getting the script filled, be willing to make some inquiries. “There might be viable alternative that is covered by your plan or the pharmacist and prescriber can help you work through the situation,” says Worz.

— Reach out to the manufacturer of the specific drug you’re taking. They may have a discount program for people who are unable to afford that medication.

— Talk to your prescriber about possible nonpharmacologic alternatives to help you manage various conditions. For instance, psychotherapy may help with depression, and physical therapy, music therapy and breathing exercises may ease pain. While nonpharmacologic efforts might not be a panacea or fully effective treatment, they may enable lower dosages or shorter courses of drug therapy.

— Talk to your prescriber or pharmacist about any over-the-counter products you’re taking or considering. “Over-the-counter products count as additional medications on your profile,” says Worz. “While you can self-treat some conditions, this could be confusing and sometimes counterproductive or even dangerous, depending on what prescriptions and other products you’re taking.” Worz suggests that not all over-the-counters, such as certain vitamins or supplements, may be necessary and will just result in additional costs.

— Talk to your insurance provider to find out if there are alternative medications in the same drug class that are covered.

[See: Questions Doctors Wish Their Patients Would Ask.]

Form Relationships With Physicians and Pharmacists

“Having a trusting relationship with someone — such as your physician or pharmacist is critical,” says Worz. By sharing your goals and expectations for treatment, your healthcare provider can help determine the best treatment for you. It also is important for them to know what financial limitations you have so that they can look for medications or other interventions that meet your budget.

Griffin agrees: “Find a pharmacist you trust and make sure they have your full history, including any herbals, supplements and over-the-counter products you’re taking. This is what we do. Pharmacists love it when people come in for a consultation.”

Griffin suggests some questions to ask every time you get a new prescription:

— Are there special instructions about when and how I should take this medication?

— What are potential side effects as well as possible interactions with other medications or over-the-counter products I’m taking?

— What is the name of this drug? Is there a generic?

— What is this medication for, and why is it being prescribed for me?

— Will I be on this medication for a brief time or long term?

While it’s not currently always possible to tell how a drug might affect a specific person, that could be changing, Griffin says. “An area of pharmacy called pharmacogenomics is emerging. You can take a cheek swab, and there are companies that can analyze how you metabolize various medications. You can get a report that will help your physician choose the best therapies for you.”

Take the Drugs That You Are Prescribed Correctly

Drugs cost money, but not taking them costs more. Not getting prescriptions filled, trying to stretch out a bottle of pills by cutting tablets in half or taking them less frequently than directed are not appropriate cost-saving measures, Griffin stresses. In fact, he says, this can end up costing you more money. He asks, “How much will it cost if you have to go to the ER or you’re hospitalized and miss two weeks of work?”

If you are having trouble obtaining, paying for or taking your medications, let your provider know right away.

Instead of shortcuts, focus on informed decisions, healthy habits and good relationships with your physician and pharmacist for cost-effective drug therapy.

More from U.S. News

Drugs That Can Threaten Heart Health

Top Drugs for Bipolar Disorder

11 Foods Not to Mix With Prescription Medications

How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs originally appeared on

Update 07/27/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up