8 Ways to Save on Prescription Drugs

It seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to how much a drug costs. But there are ways to save no matter what medications you need.

Written by Linda Childers / April 20, 2022

Quick Bites

  • A 2021 Gallup poll found that 18 million Americans can’t afford their prescribed medications.
  • There are a variety of discount programs available to reduce prescription drug costs.
  • Generic medications, which have the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts, typically cost 20% to 70% less .
  • Stores like Walmart and Costco offer special discounts and even free medications to customers and members.

If you’ve gone to the pharmacy recently to fill a prescription and experienced sticker shock, you’re not alone.

According to the 2022 Medication Access Report from CoverMyMeds, 79% of patients learned their prescription would cost more than expected. Of those, 90% said they took proactive steps to better afford their medications.[1]

The good news is that although medications are expensive, there are ways to cut costs. From pharmacy savings cards to online discount sites, here’s how to save on prescription drugs.

Inside this article

  1. 1. Talk to your doctor
  2. 2. Compare pharmacies
  3. 3. Use pharmacy savings cards
  4. 4. Try assistance programs
  5. 5. Consider a generic substitute
  6. 6. Use free or discount programs
  7. 7. Order online
  8. 8. Lower out-of-pocket costs

1. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist

The first step is often talking to your doctor or pharmacist. And remember, there’s no shame in admitting that medications are costly. A nationwide poll released last year found that 18 million Americans can’t afford their prescribed medications.[2]

Combine that with 6 in 10 Americans saying they take at least one prescription drug and 35% saying they refill at least four prescriptions a month and it becomes clear how costs can quickly add up.[3]

“I encourage consumers to address medication cost issues with their doctor and have a conversation collaboratively with their pharmacist to find the most reasonably priced medications that work best for them,” says Carrie Kreps, Pharm.D, BCGP, FASCP, a board-certified consultant pharmacist with Senior Care Pharmacy based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “Pharmacists are excellent at finding alternative equivalent medications or discount programs.”

Kreps emphasizes that you should never stop taking a prescription medication, or skip medications to save money, without first consulting with your doctor. Abruptly stopping a medication can result in serious side effects and worsening of symptoms.

“If cost is an issue, their doctor can switch them to an alternative medication that will allow them to get the care they need at a more affordable price,” she says.

2. Compare prices from different pharmacies

Prescription prices can vary between pharmacies and in some cases paying cash for your medication can be less than the cost of your insurance copay.

Kreps also recommends trying an independent pharmacy if you’re looking for less expensive options.

“Independent pharmacies understand that not everyone can afford their medication,” she says. “From my experience in family-owned stores, pharmacists will do whatever it takes to find a solution for the patient.”

3. Use pharmacy savings cards

Jessica Farrell, Pharm.D, associate professor of pharmacy practice and a clinical pharmacist at the Center for Rheumatology, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, says prescription discount cards can reduce medication prices up to 80%. The following sites offer discount cards:

These free pharmacy savings programs allow you to search for a medication and compare prices in your local area. By going to these websites, or using the company’s mobile apps, you can download savings coupons and bring them to the pharmacy to receive discounts.

4. Try patient assistance programs

These programs are offered by pharmaceutical companies to consumers who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured. If you’re experiencing financial hardship and can’t afford your prescriptions, you may be able to receive your medication at no charge from the pharmaceutical company.

To locate a prescription assistance program, check either the drug manufacturer’s website or visit RxAssist or Medicine Assistance Tool, two national resources that offer a comprehensive directory of prescription assistance programs. The nonprofit NeedyMeds offers help filling out prescription assistance forms.

5. Consider a generic substitute or different medication

Brand-name prescriptions can be pricey, but Farrell says there are often generic versions of the same medication or less expensive brand-name prescription drugs that can work just as well. Talk to your doctor and/or pharmacist about your treatment options.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that generic medications must meet the same high standards as brand-name drugs to receive FDA approval. They are typically sold for 20% to 70% less than brand-name medications.[4]

6. Use free and discounted medication programs

“Both Publix and Walmart offer free and discounted maintenance medication programs to their customers,” Kreps says. “Publix offers some of the most commonly prescribed medications for infections, diabetes and blood pressure free of charge, while Walmart offers 30-day generic medications for $4 and many 90-day prescriptions for $10.”

Costco also offers a discounted prescription drug discount card program to members. Savings range from 2% to 40% or more depending on the prescription. Like Walmart, Sam’s Club also offers generic prescriptions starting at $4.

7. Order online for savings

Mail-order pharmacies can have better prices, but be aware that not all sites are legitimate.

Before you decide to place an order with an online mail-order pharmacy, check to see if it’s certified as a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS) by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). The site should have a seal showing they are an accredited pharmacy.

A legitimate pharmacy will also have a secure website and require consumers to provide a prescription. They should also have a licensed pharmacist available to answer any questions.

For a full list of accredited online pharmacies, visit the NABP site.

8. Get help with out-of-pocket costs

If you have a chronic or rare disease, and prescription medications are unaffordable to you even after discounts, Farrell recommends reaching out to the PAN Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides federally and commercially insured patients living with chronic and rare diseases with financial assistance to cover out-of-pocket costs for their prescriptions.

HealthWell Foundation is another resource that can fill the gap by assisting with copays, premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses,” Farrell says. “No one should ever have to go without life-saving medications.”

Article Sources
  1. “2022 Medication Access Guide,” CoverMy Meds, https://assets.ctfassets.net/70w6ftfzv4je/6E13LC9SBkokbavq06lUfZ/18d7d06a512c03f6a74ce52771f567b3/CoverMyMeds_2022MedicationAccess_DataGuide__1_.pdf.
  2. “In US, an Estimated 18 Million Can’t Pay for Needed Drugs,” Gallup, https://news.gallup.com/poll/354833/estimated-million-pay-needed-drugs.aspx.
  3. “Poll: Nearly 1 in 4 Americans Taking Prescription Drugs Say It’s Difficult to Afford Their Medicines,” Kaiser Family Foundation, https://www.kff.org/health-costs/press-release/poll-nearly-1-in-4-americans-taking-prescription-drugs-say-its-difficult-to-afford-medicines-including-larger-shares-with-low-incomes.
  4. “Generic Drugs and Low-Cost Prescriptions,” Federal Trade Commission, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0063-generic-drugs-and-low-cost-prescriptions.

About the Author

Photo of Linda Childers

Linda Childers

Linda’s articles on healthcare costs and Medicare have appeared in Forbes and MedicareGuide. She has also written on healthcare topics for Arthritis Today, California Health Report, Allure, Health Monitor, US News and World Report, O, The Washington Post and many corporate blogs.

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