Skip to Content
Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Reducing Medication Costs
Some health plans have their own pharmacies for their members. If you belong to one of those health plans, some of the advice in this topic may not apply to you.
make some changes in your lifestyle might help reduce your need for medicines.
Many chronic illnesses, including
high blood pressure, and
low back pain, require fewer medicines if you can
increase your activity level, lose weight, and improve your diet. Also,
counseling, support groups, and other therapies may
help with illnesses such as
Generic medicines are less expensive copies of
brand-name medicines. Ask your doctor or
pharmacist if you can take a
generic equivalent for the brand-name medicine that
you take now. Generic equivalents are made according to the same strict U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards as brand-name drugs. So generics
have the same quality, strength, purity, and stability as their more expensive
Unfortunately, generic equivalents are not available
for every brand-name medicine. If there is not an equivalent, ask your doctor
if there is a similar medicine in the same class that may be less expensive or
that has a generic equivalent.
Shop around for the best deal
on medicines. The retail cost can vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy.
Some pharmacies match the price that other pharmacies
charge. Finding a good deal is important, but be sure
that your pharmacist (or pharmacists) knows your medical history, including all
the medicines you take—both prescription and over-the-counter (nonprescription) drugs as well as dietary supplements and
herbs—even if you didn't get them at that particular pharmacy.
That way he or she can provide valuable advice about any potential for drug
interactions, side effects, or other problems.
Also, compare costs of buying medicines online. Some large drugstore
chains have websites that offer savings. See a complete list of websites on
the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) site at
www.nabp.net. Look for websites that display the NABP
VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) seal, which means they meet
state and federal requirements.
If you decide to buy your medicine on the Internet, be a smart shopper and learn how to buy drugs safely online.
Pill splitting is another strategy that
can help you save money without losing drug effectiveness or safety. Some
tablets are available at double the dose and at the same or almost the same
cost as lower doses. By splitting the larger dose, you can essentially get two
doses for the price of one. But many medicines should not be split, including timed-release pills and capsules.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your
prescription medicines are sold at higher dosages and if it's possible to split
them. Talk to your pharmacist about how to split pills with an inexpensive,
Buying prescriptions in bulk can also save you money. Ask your doctor to write a prescription
for several months' supply of medicines that you take consistently. Keep in
mind that your insurance company may limit the amount of medicine you can get
at one time. Sometimes the cash price for a 3-month supply of medicine is less
costly than if you were to pay an insurance copay each month for three months.
Mail-order services can often save you money on large orders. But be sure to
use only trusted, reliable pharmacy websites.
If you are trying
a medicine for the first time, don't get more than a 30-day supply. That way, if
you have concerns about side effects, you can talk to your doctor about trying
another medicine. And you may save money by not getting more than you
For more ideas about how to pay for medicines, how to remember to take them, and when to call your doctor, see Quick Tips: Taking Medicines Wisely.
Take time to find out about how your medical insurance or managed health care
plan covers medicine costs. Some insurance companies cover only generic
medicines if they are available. With some insurance plans, you may have to pay
more for medicines that are not on the plan's list of preferred medicines (also
known as a formulary). Some insurers cover medicines that are bought only at
participating pharmacies. Your insurance company also may not pay for certain
medicines such as weight-loss and hair-growth drugs. Ask the customer service
representative whether your medicines are covered, whether you need to buy at
certain pharmacies, and about your copayment. Many insurance companies
also list this information on their websites.
If you have a
choice between plans, check what your copayment for prescription drugs will be,
the maximum amount the plan will pay in a year, and other details. Choose the
plan that best suits your needs. When you buy medicines, find out which payment
option will be the least expensive. Some things to consider include whether
there is a generic version of a preferred medicine and whether an
over-the-counter equivalent costs less than your copayment. Bring a copy of
your health care plan's list of preferred prescription drugs to your next
doctor appointment. And keep the list with your chart. That way, you and your
doctor can see which medicines cost the least on your plan. Remember, having
the right information can save you time and money.
To learn more about insurance, see the topic Understanding Health Insurance.
may be an over-the-counter alternative for your prescription medicine. For
example, nonprescription naproxen (Aleve) is a fraction of the cost of the prescription
equivalent Naprosyn. (Generic versions of over-the-counter medicines can save
you even more money.) Often nonprescription equivalents of prescription
medicines come in lower strengths, so get instructions from your doctor or
pharmacist on how to take them.
In the case of
antibiotics, research has found that they are
not always needed. For example, up to
two-thirds of people who have acute sinusitis improve on their own without
antibiotic treatment.1 Your
doctor might advise you to take a
wait-and-see approach before you buy expensive
The answer to the first question is "Yes."
Many brand-name prescription medicines, either over the
Internet, by mail order, or in person, cost less from
Canadian pharmacies than from their U.S. counterparts. Whether it is legal to
buy them remains controversial.
The FDA warns that the safety of
drugs bought from other countries cannot be ensured. But many doctors
say that Canada also demands safety and efficacy for medicines. These doctors say they would rather have their patients buy medicines from Canada than skip doses because they can't afford their medicines. U.S. citizens have been buying
medicines in Canada for years, although federal law prohibits the
Talk to your doctor if you decide to import your
medicines. And be sure to buy only from licensed Canadian pharmacies and
To get your
doctor to help, tell him or her that your prescription medicine bill is a
financial burden. Ask for drugs that are less expensive but that work just as well.
Often, a condition can be treated with one of several different medicines, and your
doctor may be able to prescribe one that costs less.
You might ask your doctor if he or she has medicine samples,
vouchers, or other resources for you, especially when you are trying out a new medicine to see whether it will work.
Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit began in January 2006. For the most
current information about what the Medicare Part D Act means for you, go to
www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE. Your doctor, pharmacist, or
social worker may also be able to help you know about
your Medicare benefits.
the pharmaceutical company that makes your medicine has a patient assistance
program. Some companies offer free or
discounted drugs for people who cannot afford them. These companies often
require that your doctor contact them first about your case. Your
doctor will need to be involved, and the application process can be complex.
You may need to provide documentation to verify your income. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance provides doctors and other health care providers with the
information they need to access these programs. You can find out more at
Some states have programs for seniors and
people with disabilities or low incomes.
If you have a rare disease, you
may qualify for a National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) medication
assistance program. NORD's assistance programs help people with rare diseases whose income
is too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to pay for their prescribed
medicines. For more information, visit
Most veterans know that the Veterans Administration offers prescription
drug coverage for retired veterans. But many people don't know that the same
service is available for their families and survivors. Call the VA Health
Revenue Center toll-free at 1-877-222-VETS (8387), or go
Some organizations offer special discounts on
prescription drugs for their members. For example, AARP and AAA offer savings.
Many pharmacies offer some form of a discount plan for seniors. Community
health clinics or programs may have low- or no-cost prescription drugs for those
who qualify. Also, some pharmacies offer one low cash
price ($4) for a 30-day supply of certain generic medicines.
Ah-See K (2011). Sinusitis (acute), search date June 2011. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Other Works Consulted
Kass-Bartelmes BL, Bosco L (2002). Prescription Drug Therapies: Reducing Costs and Improving Outcomes. Research in Action Issue No. 8 (AHRQ Publication No. 02-0045).
Rockville, MD: Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
Kesselheim AS, Choudhry NK (2008). The international
pharmaceutical market as a source of low-cost prescription drugs for U.S.
patients. Annals of Internal Medicine, 148(8):
Tablet splitting (2009). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 51(1318): 62–63.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2011). Coverage of personal importations. Regulatory Procedures Manual 2011, chap. 9. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/RegulatoryProceduresManual/UCM074300.pdf.
Current as of:
June 4, 2014
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.