Pharmacies have often played a critical role in treating our health at home, but perhaps never more so than during the pandemic. They’ve been important places to stock up on essentials such as disinfectant spray, hand sanitizer, vitamins and other items. But we also shop at major drugstore chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid for nonessentials, too. Ever-expanding in their retail offerings, we might easily pick up some snacks or nail polish, or even sunglasses. The list goes on and our money all too easily gets spent.
Often, though, the real hit to our wallets comes from the cost of prescription drugs, which have skyrocketed in recent years. According to GoodRx, in early 2022, more than 810 medications increased in list price by an average of 5.1%. 791 of these drugs were brand name drugs, 19 were generics, 199 were specialty drugs, and 84 were the kind you can only receive under the supervision of a provider.
Additionally, according to a new analysis from the AARP Public Policy Institute, brand name drugs have increased in price for people under Medicare Part D by an average of 5%, with some as much as 8%.
These dramatic rises in the costs of prescription drugs in the U.S. contribute to the general struggle millions of Americans face when simply trying to survive. After all, what’s more essential than medication?
Find Out the Cash Price of Prescription Drugs
“Ask the pharmacy staff about the cash price, even if you have insurance,” said Christopher K. Lee, MPH, a healthcare strategy consultant. “The reason for this is that sometimes the cash price will be lower than your insurance copay. This seems backwards, but it’s the reality. Even if the pharmacist knows the cash price is lower, their contracts with the pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) often include gag clauses that prevent them from volunteering this information. Patients should be mindful of this and advocate for themselves by asking about the cash price.”
Request a 90-Day Supply of Medication
Buying in bulk always helps in saving money, and that can apply to prescription drugs, too. Especially when you consider that often a co-pay will remain the same whether you’re buying one month, or three months worth of a medication, according to TrueCostofHealthcare.org.
“Say you’re supposed to take some medication for 90 days; it helps to get the whole prescription at once rather than buying it after each 30 days,” said Mike Stuzzi, founder, The Money Galileo.
“Requesting a 90-day supply can get you a lower price and is also convenient. You might even save a little on the transportation costs of going to the drugstores.”
“Brand-name drugs have higher prices because they own the patents of medicine,” said Alex Williams, a certified financial planner and the CFO of FindThisBest. “But when these patents expire, the competition can drive down prices while the original manufacturer still sells for extra. The generic substitutes have the same ingredients and are much cheaper. By buying generic alternatives, you can save a lot of money without having to compromise on your health.” In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, generics can be between 20 and 70 percent cheaper than a brand name.
Enter the Rewards/Loyalty Program
“If you plan on buying only from popular pharmacies, make sure to sign up for their reward programs,” Williams said. “Pharmacies like Walgreens have a point system, where you can rack up points with each purchase. When you have enough points, you’re eligible to avail discounts or several free items. The easiest way to take advantage of this system is to collect points through cheap items and then use them for discounts on expensive drugs.”
Take Advantage of BOGO Offers
“If you are willing to spend more money upfront, you will save money in the long term,” said Romy Taormina, CEO and founder of Psi Health Solutions. “You can almost always find BOGO (buy one get one) type of offers. Example: instead of just purchasing one bottle of hairspray at full price, purchase two bottles where one is full price and the second one is half off.”
You can often find BOGO discounts on vitamins, too. While this may not apply to prescription medications, it’s a good way to save on over-the-counter medications, vitamins and other health supplements.
Buy Supplements in Singular Form (as Opposed to Combined)
“You can save money when buying dietary supplements by purchasing a supplement that provides only the ingredient you need, such as vitamin D or magnesium, rather than one that combines that ingredient with a lot of other ingredients you don’t need,” said Tod Cooperman, M.D, president and founder of ConsumerLab.com. “It is also a lot less expensive to choose a powder, capsule or tablet rather than a more complicated formulation like a gummy or drink. Typically, there will not be a significant difference in absorption either way. For example, a single vitamin, like vitamin D, need not cost more than 3 to 5 cents per day, and a multivitamin need not cost more than 5 to 10 cents per day, but you could easily pay up to 10 times as much for more complicated products.”
Search the Drug Name With ‘Coupon’
“If there isn’t a generic of your brand-name drug then type in the drug name with ‘coupon’,” said Chris Nddie, a frequent pharmacy shopper. “The chances are that you will find a discount of up to 75% off. Since this is something related to my profession, I can guarantee this trick works. There are discounts for medicine to be availed at many coupon websites if customers are willing to try them.”
Use Prescription Price Comparison Sites
Use the Flipp App
“I discovered the app Flipp many years ago while working at Canadian Grocer magazine,” Lisa Bucher said. “It makes shopping using flyers easy. You can pick out the sales at several of your local drugstores. The app makes a list for you at each of the stores and you are shopping on your budget and only getting the items on your list. So many times we don’t make lists and plan out our shopping trip and that is when things go sideways. We end up making impulse purchases and walk away spending more than planned and perhaps not even buying what we came for.” While this app is unlikely to help with prescription medications, it is likely a good way to find deals on vitamins, supplements and other health aids.
Avoid Buying Items Like Toilet Paper and Diapers
“Items like diapers, toilet papers, disposable cutlery and crockery are things that you go through very quickly,” Williams said. “Avoid buying these from drugstores at all costs [and instead] get them at large retail stores in bulk.”
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Jordan Rosenfeld contributed to this article.