Prepare for Obamacare: 10 Ways to Pay Less for Prescription Drugs

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This post comes from Beth Braverman at partner site The Fiscal Times.

The average American who regularly takes medication spends nearly $760 a year out-of-pocket on prescription drugs.

That’s a staggering figure, considering some 49 percent of consumers take at least one prescription drug, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Costs aren’t expected to get any better when health coverage under Obamacare becomes available at the start of next year. Consumers who purchase the lower-cost bronze and silver plans on the state marketplaces may see their out-of-pocket prescription costs increase an average of 34 percent, according to a recent analysis by HealthPocket.

But there are steps you can take to cut your prescription drug costs. Here are 10 ways to save:

1. Shop around

Calling several pharmacies to compare prices could yield huge savings. Prices at different stores vary more than fourfold, according to a recent study by Consumer Reports. The study found the best prices at warehouse stores like Costco and at local, independent pharmacies. (Experts recommend filling all your prescriptions at one store so that the pharmacist can monitor potential interactions.)

2. Buy in bulk

Most pharmacies will offer a discount for filling a three-month prescription rather than a 30-day supply. You may be able to save even more by buying the 90-day supply via an online drugstore. But before ordering online, make sure the site is legit by looking for a VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) seal. While it may be tempting to order drugs cheaply from overseas pharmacies, experts say it’s unsafe (and illegal) to do so.

3. Split your pills (with doctor approval)

Larger-dose pills often cost the same as smaller-dose pills. Ask your doctor whether the drugs you’re on can be safely split. (Typically uncoated, scored pills are good candidates.) Spend $5 on a pill splitter – and your prescription will suddenly last twice as long.

4. Clip coupons

You may not find coupons in the Sunday paper for prescription meds, but they’re available if you know where to look, says Stephanie Nelson, who runs CouponMom.com. Nelson says you can download coupons worth anywhere from a few bucks up to $100 from some manufacturers’ websites. Pharmaceutical reps also often leave coupons with doctors or pharmacists to give out on request, so be sure to ask if any are available when you get a new scrip.

5. Use pretax dollars

Nearly 90 percent of large employers’ benefit plans allow workers to set aside pretax dollars for medical expenses in a flexible savings account, but only 23 percent of employees actually use the accounts, according to Mercer. Big mistake.

Depending on your tax bracket, using pretax dollars for your prescriptions and other medical expenses could save you 20 percent to 30 percent. Just be careful to estimate how much you’ll spend in a year, since you forfeit unused cash at the end of the year.

6. Get it for free

Some large supermarket chains like Publix will fill basic antibiotic prescriptions like amoxicillin for free. “Just go up to a pharmacy and ask for a list of which drugs they give out for free,” Nelson says.

7. Go generic

Ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to switch to the generic version of any medication you take. Making the switch can save you 20 percent to 80 percent on a prescription. Walmart, Target and some grocery chains offer many generic prescriptions for as little as $4.

8. Stockpile samples 

When your doctor writes a new prescription, ask whether she has any samples you can try first. This way you get a few pills for free, plus you can make sure you don’t experience any side effects before you pay to fill the entire prescription. “Many doctors are very willing to provide you with extra samples if you ask for them,” says Brandy Bauer, a spokeswoman for the National Council on Aging. Do keep an eye on the expiration dates for your meds, because some drugs lose potency if they’re kept unused for too long.

9. Tap drug maker assistance programs

Do you qualify for the low-income assistance programs offered by drug manufacturers and nonprofits? It’s worth looking into. The income threshold for those is often much higher than the threshold for public assistance via Medicaid or other state-sponsored programs. Plug the name of your prescription and diagnosis into NeedyMeds.org to see if you qualify. “Check back regularly, because we’re always adding new programs,” says the site’s administrator, Richard Sagall.

10. Get a discount card

Many organizations like AAA and AARP offer drug discount cards to members, and others can be downloaded for free online. Such cards are only good for medications not covered by insurance, but a ConsumerWorld study last year found that such cards can save users up to 70 percent on certain meds. Look for a no-cost card that does not require registration.

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  • Sandra

    No joke! I thought WalMart would be the least expensive for all my meds, but found they were cheaper by $100 on one (I pay out of pocket because I can’t get health insurance until the new law takes effect), but were actually $100 more on another than my local grocery pharmacy. While I’d prefer to have all scripts filled at one pharmacy for both safety (the pharmacy checks for drug interactions between prescriptions on file) and convenience, $100 difference is the deciding factor. Several drug manufacturers have a new strategy of stopping production on even low-cost generic antibiotics for several months to up demand and prices. Doxycycline should be less than $10 a month even without health insurance, but when it wasn’t being manufactured for about 6 months the price was over $600! I have found several other antibiotics are now skyrocketing in cost for the same reason. This is absurd price-fixing. Those of us with chronic Lyme Disease have no choice but to take multiple monthly antibiotics, and now that the generic versions have increased to over $200 each, it’s impossible to pay for the multiple meds required to treat this illness, increasing the likelihood of death.

  • Donna

    I used Wal Mart once for prescriptions and found one was double what CVS charged and one was triple! I wrote the main office, sending all receipts and documentaion of prior refills along with a very well written letter asking for the overage. sent it registered, return receipt requested—that was 3 years ago and to this day have never received a response. Here’s a tip to go by—-just because they say it’s does that make it true? Guess we, the public must do more homework before getting reeled in by good advertising.

  • Donna

    Thanks for the feedback Virginia, but the closest Costco to me is well over an hour. :( I find CVS to be the best

    • Virginia Carrizales

      Donna, have you gone online and price compared each pharmacy. I did that also, and seen which was the cheapest.

  • Virginia Carrizales

    I was just thinking if you could do mail order at a pharmacy not in your area. May I ask where your town is?