A Prescription For Savings

By Mary Hunt

May 11, 2017 5 min read

These days, the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs is enough to give you a heart attack. If your prescription medication costs have got you down, cheer up! Then check out these ways you can save money on prescription medications -- plus where and how to get some medicines (antibiotics!) for free.

GOODRX.COM. What a fantastic website this is -- with no sign-up or credit card required. Just type in the drug name plus your ZIP code at this site (or using GoodRx's mobile app for IOS and Android) to compare prices at different pharmacies in the area and to find coupons, too, that will cut the cost even further. Drug prices vary wildly between pharmacies and GoodRx finds you the lowest prices and discounts. Here's an example in Los Angeles for 90 300-milligram capsules of gabapentin (generic Neurontin): Kmart: $12.92. Rite Aid $55.49. Safeway: $13.17. Target $16.38; Walgreens $29.29. GoodRx.com will make sure you get the lowest price available. Here's another example: 30 20-milligram tablets of Lipitor (generic). The estimated cash price is $80.10. With GoodRx coupon: $10.63. That's a savings of 87 percent. (These examples are from 2015.)

THE DOC TALK. Usually, doctors don't keep up with the retail price of medications they prescribe; they're thinking in terms of successful treatment, not dollar signs. A pharmacy tech told me recently that all the time she will have patients call the doctor for a cheaper options once she shows them what the first will cost. Don't be afraid to make that call. More than likely, there is a less expensive option that will be just as effective.

PILL SPLITTING. A $5 pill splitter just might save you 50 percent on the cost of your medication. Because of a quirk of how some drugs are priced, a tablet that's twice as strong as another may not be twice the price. In fact, it might be about the same price. So, sometimes, cutting a higher strength pill in half can get you two doses for about the price of one. With a little manual labor -- just snapping down the lid of a pill cutter with your finger -- pill splitting can save quite a lot of money. Talk to your doctor. Not all prescription pills are splittable, but the one you take just might be. According to Web MD, some pills that are commonly split include: statins like Crestor, Lipitor and Pravachol; antidepressants such as Celexa, Paxil and Zoloft; ACE inhibitors such as Monopril, Prinivil, Univasc and Zestril; and angiotensin receptor blockers such as Avapro and Cozaar

ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS. From time to time government programs, nonprofits and drug manufacturers offer deeply discount or no-cost medicines. To find out the latest information on what is available, I highly recommend the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website (pparx.org). Once there, simply enter the name of the medication or the company that makes it then click "Get Help Now" to discover whether there are currently programs and assistance with the cost of that medication. Also check with disease-related associations such as the American Cancer Society (cancer.org) and the American Diabetes Association (diabetes.org).

BIG-BOX STORE PROGRAMS. Many chains -- including Wal-Mart, Publix, Target, Meijer and Costco -- offer deeply discounted generic medicines for $4 to $10. Some medicines, such as antibiotics and prenatal vitamins, are offered free. Costco's assistance is available for members only, and it is fantastic -- well worth the price of membership if you do not have prescription drug insurance coverage.

AARP DISCOUNTS. If you're eligible (age 50 or older), look into joining AARP as their members receive many discounts including mail-order pharmacy discounts through reputable distributors.

BUY IN BULK. Certain medications (cholesterol statins are one example) are often available for a highly discounted price in a 90-day supply. You may be required to order by mail order to get that price.

Mary Hunt's column, "Everyday Cheapskate," can be found at creators.com.

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