A Spoonful of Savings Helps the Medicine Go Down: How to Save Money on Medications

When you don’t feel well, whether it’s a random headache, a temporary infection, or a chronic illness getting you down, the last thing you want is to spend more and more money to feel better. The cost of medicines and prescriptions has been going through the roof, but what choice do you have but to spend on them? Here’s how to save money on medications you need.

Pile of pills representing how to save money on medications

The Good News

The good news is that there are several ways to help save money on medications. As I’ve gotten older and accumulated more health issues, taking medications has become a daily routine for me. It can really eat up a lot of your budget even when you are being careful. In my case, I spend about triple what the average person spends a year, running into several thousands. Here are some of the ways you and I both can help control costs, even if you need meds every day.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications

OTC medications are those that you can buy without a prescription. They include pain relievers, allergy medicine, cold & flu remedies, cough treatments, and first aid products too.

Because these are non-prescription medications, you don’t have to wait to have a prescription filled by the pharmacist. Most OTC medications are easily accessible to consumers and can help with treating symptoms of common ailments quickly, reducing the cost compared to prescriptions.

Saving Money on OTC Medications

When you need them, you can and should always compare the retail prices among all of the major drug chains and even supermarkets that you shop. There are differences in the prices and you may even be shocked at how big they are. The regular prices are one thing, but the sales prices, loyalty card discounts, coupons, and other discounts are sometimes dramatic here.

I always look online at the websites to check the prices before I shop and in many cases I can save 50% or more on basic OTC drugs when I do. It is worth the few minutes I spend to save money, especially if it’s something I need to use regularly.

Save Even More If Your Insurance Gives You an OTC Allowance

Depending on your insurance plan, Medicare and Medicaid members (and even others) may receive an allowance to help them save money on OTC products like vitamins, pain relievers, cough and cold medicines, first-aid supplies, and more. To see if this allowance is included with your plan, go to the “Coverage and Benefits” section of your plan. Some plans can give you actual money or credits to spend every quarter, even hundreds of dollars. That is true even if your supplemental plan has no premium cost to you at all.

Remember that every year you should review your plan even if you currently love the plan you have now. That’s because they can change each year and if you check, you may find that those changes are to your advantage when the annual open enrollment arrives (in October) for the next year’s coverage.

Read the Labels

When you’re buying OTC medicines, always read the labels to find out what the active ingredients in it are and how much are included (both dosage and number of pills). This will let you compare prices on various remedies that accomplish the same thing.

Consider the Generic

Generics, or store brands, are typically less expensive than brand name products, but with the same active ingredients. Always do the math to determine which product will save you the most (surprisingly, the brand name medicine with a coupon can cost less than the generic).

Check the Expiration Dates

If you have any medication in your medicine cabinet, check the dates before use. You may need to replace it before using it.

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Prescription Medications

When the doctor has written you a prescription, whether you have health insurance or not, you are likely to pay more than you would for an OTC medicine. Sometimes it’s a one-time prescription, such as an antibiotic to cure an infection, but other times it is a maintenance medication used for a chronic condition. Obviously maintenance medications impact your budget and thus you have a greater opportunity to save money on medications since you purchase them over and over.

Again, Consider the Generic

Unless your doctor has specified the brand-name medicine only, you may have the opportunity to take a generic drug after the patent for the brand name drug has expired. These medications are chemically identical, but at a much lower cost. To find out if there is a generic equivalent for your medication, consult your pharmacist or Drugs@FDA for a catalog of FDA-approved drug products, including their drug labeling.

Check Manufacturers’ Programs

If there is no generic available for your medication, look on the manufacturer’s website (or check RxAssist or NiceRx) to see if there are any assistance or co-pay programs you may qualify for. For expensive medications, the manufacturer will often contribute to reduce your co-pay, or in the case of government-insured patients, offer a limited amount of medication for free, such as one month’s dosage.

Free Prescription Discount Programs

You have probably seen many ads for discount prescription deals such as GoodRx, WellRx, and SingleCare where you can check to find discount deals on your medications at no cost or fees, with no memberships and no commitments!

Savings are used at your pharmacy with a discount card or a coupon that you can get online and save as much as 80% on your prescription. You can even use any of these discounts if you are on a Medicare plan (note they are not used in conjunction with your Medicare plan, but instead of your Medicare plan for a particular prescription)!

The only negative is that if you use your special discount, that cost will not be counted towards your Medicare plan medication expense coverage which affects what is known as the “donut hole”. That’s the time during the year when coverage is less and you have to bear through that expense to reach what is known as “catastrophic coverage” which makes the medicines very low cost. Most people will never have to concern themselves with that, unless they are chronically ill and spend many thousands on medicines every year.

Saving the money with these discounts may be way more valuable to you than escaping the donut hole, which may never actually be needed!

Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drugs

Shark Tank celebrity investor Mark Cuban has recently launched a new pharmaceutical drug company that provides affordable medicine to uninsured Americans, as well as those who may be underinsured.

The service, called Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, is continually adding generic medications to its mail-order pharmacy website and currently has over 700 different kinds of prescription medications.

Their mission statement “We will provide low-cost, high-quality pharmaceuticals to the consumer…by any means possible” is music to the ears of anyone who needs to save money!

While they don’t have generics for every medication, they are adding new ones all the time. Search for your medication and it will tell you the exact price you pay plus shipping. They do not accept insurance, you simply pay the cash price shown.

Low-Cost Prescriptions

Check out Walmart’s $4 prescription list and other pharmacies (particularly supermarket chains) where they offer low-cost (and sometimes even no-cost) prescriptions.

Split Pills

Try splitting pills! With certain medications, you can safely split pills in half to save money. How does this save you money? When you take a lower dosage (let’s say 10 mg) of your medication, which is also available in a higher dosage (let’s say 20 mg), there is generally little or even no difference in the price of the two dosages. So buying 20 mg pills and splitting them in half would save you half the cost of your prescription.

If you split pills, use a pill splitter that is made for doing so and don’t do it without one, otherwise you may not divide the dosage properly (some pills are scored to show you exactly where to divide them).

However, not all medications can be safely split, so talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if this is an option.

Ask for Samples

When you are starting a new medication, always ask the doctor if they have samples available for you to try. It is a waste of money to buy a month’s prescription only to find out after a week that the medicine doesn’t work for you or causes unbearable side effects. By trying the samples first, you don’t need to spend your money until you’re confident that you’ve found the right medication.

Ask for Alternatives

Keep this in mind: You know those pharmaceutical sales reps you see at the doctor’s office? Those reps try to influence your doctor. That may be why sometimes the doctor would like you to try the newest and greatest innovation to treat your condition, without realizing how much it will cost. In these cases, ask the doctor if alternatives are available. An older (and cheaper) medication may sufficiently treat your condition without emptying your wallet.

Check for Benefits

Some manufacturers have special programs for reduced cost from them directly if you are financially qualified. Find their website online and see about these programs if you need the help.

Use NeedyMeds to find more financial assistance programs, or if you’re a senior or disabled, look on the Medicare or Social Security websites for help and information.

Final Thoughts

If you find your prescription medication costs overwhelming, make the effort to find ways to save. Never skip meds or just do without because that is a very high risk way to save now and pay later.

Prevention is always the best medicine when it comes to your health, so take care of your health before you need any drugs. But if you do need medication, be sure to follow these tips, and enlist the help of your doctor and pharmacist as needed. When you save money on medications, it will help keep you and your budget healthy in the long run.

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