If there were karate belts for saving money on medication, I’d have a black belt.
I started my training early in life, having been raised by a doctor with a pharmacology background and a medical office manager.
I’ve also spent years on both sides of the medical fence, as a patient and a health care worker. I’ve had to pay for medical expenses while insured and while uninsured.
Along the way, I’ve learned and used just about every trick in the book for reducing prescription drug expenses. The following tips have served me best.
1. Pay with a discounted gift card
This is my favorite way to shave money off my prescription drug copays.
I primarily get my household’s medications at CVS these days, as it’s our nearest pharmacy. So, I buy CVS gift cards for less than their face value and pay for medications with those cards.
I buy the cards from marketplaces like Raise. These websites enable folks with unwanted gift cards to sell them to others, albeit for less than they are worth. That enables savvy shoppers to nab gift cards for less than their face value.
I can generally get CVS gift cards for about 15% off. So, when I pay for medications with one, I basically get the medications for 15% off.
2. Pay with a rewards credit card
Can’t or don’t want to pay with a discounted gift card? If you have a rewards credit card that you pay off in full every month to avoid interest charges, pay with that instead.
Or, better yet, pay for discounted gift cards with a rewards credit card — that’s what I do.
If you don’t have a credit card that you love, use a free online resource like Money Talks News’ credit card comparison tool to help you find one.
3. Shop around
Your nearest brick-and-mortar drugstore is just one of many pharmacies through which you could buy your prescriptions.
In fact, traditional drugstore pharmacies tend to charge higher prices than other pharmacies. That’s based on my experiences shopping around and has been echoed by independent analyses like the one we covered in “The Cheapest Pharmacy for Prescriptions Might Surprise You.”
So, comparing different pharmacies’ prices for your medications is imperative to ensure you are getting the best possible price.
Pick up the phone to find out the prices of pharmacies in your local big-box stores, grocery stores and warehouse clubs. You generally do not need to be a member of a chain like Costco or Sam’s Club to use their pharmacies.
Then, go online. Try out free comparison-shopping tools like those we detail in “5 Websites to Check Before Buying Prescription Drugs.”
4. Pay out of pocket
When calling around for prices, be sure to ask each pharmacy for its cash price — the price you would pay for a drug if you did not have insurance or if you did not use your insurance to pay for the drug.
Sometimes a pharmacy’s cash price for a particular drug is less than you would pay for the same drug with insurance. The cash price could even be less than your copay would be for the same drug.
This is particularly true of generic drugs. Many pharmacies, including those at big-box stores and supermarkets, offer a 30-day supply of various generic medications for as little as $4, and a 90-day supply for $10.
I currently have health insurance but pay out-of-pocket for two medications for this reason. If I bought those drugs through my insurance, I’d pay a $20 copay for a 90-day supply. But when I buy them out-of-pocket, I get a 90-day supply for $10.
So, on those two medications, I save 50% by paying out-of-pocket.
5. Compare strength prices
Sometimes, the per-milligram cost of a medication varies depending on the pill strength. This means you might be able to save money by buying a different strength and splitting pills.
Let’s take the brand-name cholesterol drug Crestor for example. Ideally, you’d talk to your doctor about generic alternatives, but I’m using it to illustrate a point.
At the time this article was written, HealthWarehouse, an online pharmacy based in the U.S. that I’ve used in the past, was selling a 30-day supply of Crestor for $324 — no matter what pill strength you buy.
So, let’s say you bought a 30-day supply of the 10-milligram strength pill. You’d pay $324 for a total of 300 milligrams worth of Crestor. That’s $1.08 per milligram.
But if you bought the 20-milligram pill, you’d pay the same price for 600 milligrams. That’s 54 cents per milligram — 50% cheaper.
This means that if you take 10 milligrams a day of Crestor, for example, you could save 50% by buying 20-milligram pills and splitting them.
If you find you could save significantly by splitting any of your own pills, ask your doctor whether your prescriptions can be split safely. If the doctor says yes, then ask him or her to write your prescription such that the pills can be split. Explain how it would save you money.
What’s your favorite way to save money on prescriptions? Let us know in comments below or on Facebook.