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8 Savvy Ways to Save on Pricey Prescription Drug Costs

·7-min read

Even with insurance, copays, and health savings accounts, sticker shock from prescription meds is very real. But rather than take those prices at face value, there are several ways you can save money—and time—filling those necessary prescriptions. These money-saving experts have tips on how and where to find those discounts the next time you leave the doctor's office.

RELATED: Don't Pay a Medical Bill Until You Do These 5 Things

Look for discounts online.

It used to be, the only way to get a prescription filled was at a brick-and-mortar pharmacy or the one inside your grocery store. More than ever now, you can purchase drugs safely and on the cheap through online providers. The bonus is you'll also save time by ordering with a simple mouse click. Sites like GoodRx and SingleCare have made it their business to help consumers easily compare drug prices from pharmacy to pharmacy, while also offering their own discounts with digital coupons and discount cards.

"Being good consumers of healthcare costs is always a challenge, and you might be anxious about going to a doctor and getting a prescription not knowing how much it's going to cost," says Ramzi Yacoub, chief pharmacy officer at SingleCare. "This is just a really easy tool for people to use to understand their costs beforehand."

If you go this route, still do your own homework. "[These options] can save you a lot of legwork, although it's always a good idea to confirm the lowest price directly with the pharmacy," says Kate Ashford, a Medicare specialist at NerdWallet. "Sometimes the rate on the site isn't what you'll be charged when you use your insurance."

Many of these sites also offer downloadable coupons for prescription drugs.

"The way they work varies—often you can't use them together with insurance—but sometimes they discount a drug so much that it doesn't matter if you use your insurance," Ashford says. "Do a web search for your drug and the words 'assistance' or 'coupon' to see what's out there."

Yacoub does suggest using caution when going this route with general web searches, however. "A lot of websites and online pharmacy retailers do this, just make sure it's a reputable company in the United States rather than getting something outside of the U.S. that isn't FDA approved," he says. "You have to be careful."

Or ask about discounts offline.

If shopping on the internet isn't your jam, many coupons can also be found in person, through trusted providers. "The best place to start is actually your doctor's office or with your pharmacist by asking them if they have any coupons on hand, flyers, or information about the prescription," says Janet Alvarez, executive editor at Wise Bread. "You can find the coupons directly from the manufacturer as well."

RELATED: How to Manage a Mountain of Medical Bills When a Health Crisis Occurs

Simply shop at a different pharmacy.

If you're the type who's always picked up your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, you might be able to save a few dollars just by mixing it up and shopping around locally. It might require a phone call to each nearby pharmacy, but it could end up being more than worth the small effort.

"It's worthwhile to price your prescription at several pharmacies, including the big box stores like Costco and Walmart," Ashford says. "There can be substantial savings by filling prescriptions at a different store."

Check out pharmacy membership programs.

Chain pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, do have their perks when it comes to saving on meds. Many offer a membership program that not only applies to cosmetics and toiletries, but also to their pharmacy offerings. See if signing up helps your bottom line.

"Sometimes you just need to sign up using your personal information, while others require a small membership fee," Ashford says. "Walgreens' prescription savings program is $20 for a single person and $35 for a family, for instance."

RELATED: HSAs and FSAs Aren't the Same: Here Are the Differences So You Can Finally Stop Mixing Them Up

Ask for the generic brand.

Yacoub suggests asking for the generic version of the branded drug you've been prescribed since it might save you more. "For just the cash price of these medications, you'll generally save more on the generic—but you'll generally have deeper discounts with your branded medications," he says. "Just talk to your pharmacist. They're usually pretty aware of what's out there."

However, do keep in mind that there could be some disadvantages to getting the generic version of the drug you've been prescribed. Ashford says this can get tricky when it comes to antidepressants or birth control, for example.

"Even if the active ingredient in a generic is the same as the brand, the inactive ingredients can be different, and they may affect how you react to the medication," she says. "If you feel like you're not getting the desired results from a generic, definitely talk to your doctor."

Buy in bulk.

Yacoub recommends asking whether your doctor or pharmacist will sell you a 90-day—rather than a 30-day—supply of your medication, which can save you some money. "Most insurance plans offer a mail order pharmacy option that allows you to order 90 days of regular medication at a time," Ashford says. "If you're on regular, year-round prescriptions, this can save you money."

Of course there are some meds (think: heavy-duty pain killers), that you won't be allowed to order in large quantities. "Painkillers, opiates—anything that needs to be recalibrated often with a doctor—may not want to keep you at a particular dose for a long time, or may want to sort of reassess how you're doing on that dose before prescribing it for a longer period of time," Alvarez explains. It's always worth it to ask, but "that can be a key twist," she adds.

Look into copay assistance programs.

A simple Google search will tell you whether the particular drug you're buying has any copay assistance program attached to it. This is common mostly with brand name drugs, and many work seamlessly with your insurance company. Ashford suggests checking Medicare's site by entering the name of the drug you're looking for to see if a program exists. Then, reach out to see if you qualify.

Yacoub also suggests chatting up your pharmacist, and says he can't stress enough working with them: "They're a great tool and happy to help."

Find a new insurance plan.

Finally, in extreme cases, you might need to consider a new insurance plan or provider to save money on the high cost of your particular prescription med regimen. There are certainly ways to save in this arena, but you'll likely have to do a lot more work to get things switched over while you shop.

"It's important to shop around each year when you have the opportunity, either during your employer's open enrollment or during Medicare's open enrollment period," Ashford says. "Insurance plans can change their drug coverage each year and you should make sure you're getting the best plan for your money."

Make sure doing so won't cause any gaps in coverage while you should be taking these prescriptions. Alvarez suggests contacting your current provider to see if they can work with you on a particular prescription before changing plans. "Generally these insurance companies will offer online services and price look-up tools to find the best options for your medications," says Yacoub.

RELATED: Do You Really Need All Those Prescription Meds? Here's How to Stop Taking So Many Pills (Yes, Even as You Age)

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