5 Ways to Pay Less for Medications

Worried about how you can afford your prescription? Here are a few ways you can save money and get the medications you need.

Medically reviewed in August 2021

For many Americans, controlling healthcare costs is continually top of mind. But, health experts warn that you should never skip doses of prescription medication or take a smaller dose than prescribed in order to save money.

Unfortunately, not everyone follows that advice. A 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that over 11 percent of Americans aged 18 to 64 have admitted to not taking their medicine as prescribed in order to save money. Among uninsured adults, almost 34 percent said they were less likely to take their medications as prescribed due to cost concerns.  

“If you’re not taking your prescription, it can’t work for you. And if you’re taking it at less than the prescribed dose, it could be working for you less,” says Keith Roach, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “If you are taking an antibiotic or antiviral medicine—when it is at the right dose in your body, it keeps the bugs from growing. But once that level gets too low, then they have a chance of learning how to defeat the medicine you’re taking.”

In addition, skipping doses or only taking a partial dose can have other negative consequences, including increased visits to the emergency room and hospitalizations.

Strategies for reducing costs
The next time you’re thinking about how to reduce your drug costs, use one or more of these strategies—before your health ends up paying the price.

Be informed. Your doctor may not be aware of your medication coverage. Look at your health insurance plan website or ask your pharmacist about preferred tier medications. Then share that information with your doctor. “Your doctor wants to help you and work with you to figure out a way of using your benefits to the maximum,” Dr. Roach says.

Use generics. Ask your doctor to write a prescription for a generic substitute, if possible. Keep in mind that there are a few instances where a brand-name medication is necessary. If you have a concern about the medication prescribed to you, talk to your health care provider.

Shop around. Drug prices vary by pharmacy, so do your homework and call around before getting your prescription filled. Use an app or website, such as Sharecare, to search and compare prices for your medications. And don’t just think of pharmacies as sources. Many big box and grocery stores fill prescriptions at a lower cost. Consider mail-order as well. Many pharmacies and insurance providers will discount a drug if you order a 90-day supply. If you need medication for longer than three months, ask your doctor for an extended prescription. Do not rely on internet or foreign pharmacies, as they may sell counterfeit or dangerous drugs.

Seek help from the drug company. Contact the drug manufacturer to see if you qualify for an assistance plan for either low-cost or zero-cost medication. Many manufacturers also feature coupons on their website for brand-name medications. However, keep in mind that a manufacturer can stop issuing coupons without notice, so this may not be a long-term solution.

Ask, “Do I still need this?” Sometimes a person’s medication profile needs a good cleaning, especially if you are prescribed medication by multiple doctors. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask your healthcare provider if you still need to take a certain medication.

Consider lifestyle changes
In addition to prescribing the right medications, healthcare providers will often suggest lifestyle modifications to help with certain conditions and their symptoms. Suggested changes may include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a wholesome diet
  • Beginning an exercise routine
  • Practicing stress-relieving tactics
  • Quitting smoking
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Reducing or eliminating alcohol

Taking the time to make your health a priority can also have a positive impact your wallet.

“Treating any underlying condition through lifestyle can sometimes eliminate the need for medications and has so many other benefits,” says Roach. “Not only can it you save money, you can save side effects.”

Even if you practice healthy habits, it may not eliminate the need for certain medications. Do not stop taking any prescriptions unless directed by your healthcare provider.

Keep an open dialogue
If you are worried about the cost of a medication, don’t feel embarrassed about speaking up. Your healthcare provider may not realize your financial limitations. They also may not know if you have poor coverage or no insurance at all.

“Your physician can’t help you if they don’t understand what your situation is. They can help find a regimen for you that is something you’re going to be able to afford,” says Roach. “It’s much better to have a regimen you can afford and take every day than it is to be on a more expensive medication that you can’t afford to take or that you take only intermittently.”

Sources
QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Aged ≥18 Years Who Did Not Take Their Medication as Prescribed or Asked for Lower-Cost Medication to Save Money Among Those Prescribed Medication in the Past 12 Months, by Number of Chronic Conditions — National Health Interview Survey, 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:990.
Cohen RA, Boersma P, Vahratian A. Strategies used by adults aged 18–64 to reduce their prescription drug costs, 2017. NCHS Data Brief, no 333. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2019.
Medicare. “Lower Prescription Costs”
UpToDate. “Coping with high drug prices (Beyond the Basics)”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “How You Can Prevent Chronic Diseases”

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