Prices for medications may be very different from pharmacy to pharmacy, even within the same ZIP code. So you may be able to save money on your medicines by shopping around for the best price.
“Prescription and over-the-counter medication prices vary, depending on where you go,” says Kyle Manera, the chief operating officer of Co-Immunity, an organization in Wichita, KS, for people with chronic illnesses.
Even if you use insurance, your out-of-pocket cost may differ, depending on where and how you buy your medications.
Are All Pharmacies the Same?
Every pharmacy, whether it's local, a chain, or a mail-order or online operation, has its own markup on drugs. Prices differ, based on their markup, the brand of the medication, and how much you order.
Your insurance plan may require you to use its "preferred" pharmacy. That's a pharmacy your insurance company has an agreement with. If you use this pharmacy, you may have a lower copay for medications.
But even if you have insurance that covers medications, you may be able to find a lower price by shopping around.
How to Get the Best Prices
Try these strategies for finding the best price on your over-the-counter and prescription medication:
Call around. You can save time and money by calling different pharmacies to find out your out-of-pocket prescription cost ahead of time.
“Call a few independent pharmacies and check out their prices vs. prices from a big-box store like Walgreens or CVS,” says Rajesh Chotalia, a pharmacist in illinois. “You may find a bargain at an independent pharmacy.”
Use price-compare tools. “There are a lot of good apps out there that can help you find the best prices,” Manera says.
Apps and websites like GoodRx, RxSaver, WebMDRx, and SingleCare help you compare the price of a medication at different pharmacies. When you type in the name of a drug, it shows you a list of prices at various pharmacies in your area.
Some, like GoodRx, also offer coupon cards you can use for extra discounts.
Try an online pharmacy. Some online pharmacies have pre-negotiated prices that can save you money. They may deliver your medication through the mail or offer local pickup.
For example, at Blink Health, you order online, then choose delivery or pickup at a local pharmacy. At HealthWarehouse.com and Marley Drug, you search and order a drug online, then it’s delivered by mail.
Check mail-order prices before you order. Some insurance plans recommend using a specific mail-order pharmacy to fill long-term prescriptions. But they don’t always have the best prices. Using a mail-order pharmacy will sometimes save you money, but not always.
Compare prices with and without insurance. Your insurance plan may save you money on prescriptions. You may also be able to get certain over-the-counter medications at a lower price by using your insurance. But insurance doesn’t always get you the best price. Because of deductibles and copays, you might get a better deal by buying your meds directly.
But be careful when skipping insurance. The amount you pay may not be counted toward your insurance deductible or maximum out-of-pocket, unless you can submit these expenses manually to prove you paid them. Contact your insurance company's customer service department to see how to submit your receipts. Do the same when you use coupons or discount programs instead of insurance.
“Depending on what you’re buying, ditching your insurance and looking at discount cards or sales might save you more than your own plan,” says Andrei Vasilescu, co-founder of DontPayFull, a company that provides free coupons and discount offers to online shoppers.
Look for coupons. Some drugmakers offer discounts on expensive medications. Try searching for manufacturer coupons on their websites. You can also ask your doctor if they have any coupons you can use.
Try a drug discount card. You may be able to save money with a free drug savings card. Cards like GoodRx, WebMDRx, and NeedyMeds can lower your prescription costs up to 80%.
You sign up for the card online, print it at home, then use it at pharmacies like Walmart and Walgreens to get discounts on your prescriptions.
Buy in bulk. “If you’re going to take medication for a long time, it makes sense to get 3-6 months’ worth of medication,” Chotalia says.
For prescriptions, check with your insurance provider about the maximum supply of a drug they'll cover at one time (it's often a 90-day supply), then ask your doctor if they can prescribe in that amount. This may cost more up front but can save you money over time. For over-the-counter drugs, you may find discounts on bulk medications at wholesale clubs like Sam’s and Costco.
Talk to your doctor. Ask your doctor to review your prescription needs. Ask if you can do without any of your prescriptions. Maybe there’s a similar, but lower-cost, drug you can take instead. Or maybe there's a generic version of the brand-name drug your doctor prescribed.
“If a generic medicine is available, go for the generic version,” Chotalia says. “You will save a lot more money – and it’s the same medication.”
Talk to your pharmacist. Your pharmacist may be able to save you money by recommending a less expensive drug or by telling you about different pricing options.
Ask them what your prescription will cost with and without insurance. See if they’ll call your doctor to request a less expensive medication. And ask if they know of any prescription discount cards or patient assistance programs that could help you afford your medication.
Consider a patient assistance program. If you need help to pay for medication, you could get free or low-cost medication through a patient assistance program (PAP) offered by the drugmaker. Some government agencies and nonprofit groups have them, too. You can find information on different PAPs at RXAssist.org.
Photo Credit: Tom Werner / Getty Images
Rajesh Chotalia, pharmacist, speaker, and health and wellness consultant.
Kyle Manera, chief operating officer, Co-Immunity Foundation.
Andrei Vasilescu, co-founder, DontPayFull.
Consumer Reports: “Lower Your Drug Costs with These Six Hacks.”
University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging: “Doctors and Pharmacists: An Underused Resource to Manage Drug Costs for Older Adults.”
Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI): “Let’s Talk about Rx Costs.”