You might remember when the price tag of the EpiPen made headlines in 2016. The cost of this life-saving medication, used to treat severe allergic reactions, went from $93.88 to $608.61 in a seven-year timeframe - a 500% price increase by drug manufacturer Mylan Pharmaceuticals.
While the EpiPen story was an extreme case, it's not uncommon for prescription drugs to increase in price and become unaffordable.
That's why you inevitably want to make sure you're paying the best price for your prescriptions. Here are some ways to be a savvy shopper and save money on your prescription drugs.
This may be a no-brainer for some, but it's a cost-saving tip worth remembering.
Generic drugs can be significantly cheaper than brand-name versions. While everyone benefits from generic drug prices, people over age 65, especially, saved $75 billion in 2016 by choosing generic drugs.
It's important to know that you're not compromising the quality of the drug if you choose a generic brand: The FDA says that generic drugs have the same active ingredients and effectiveness of brand-name drugs - a part of the FDA's approval process. So if your doctor prescribes a brand-name drug, ask if there's a generic equivalent. The savings are worth the effort.
If the price of your prescription seems high, know that you don't have to "just accept" your pharmacy's costs. One pharmacy may charge $7 for amoxicillin, while the other charges $12 for the same thing. And big-box stores may have bigger discounts than smaller pharmacies. Be sure to compare prescription drug costs at different pharmacies.
Drug manufacturers or insurers may also offer discounts for certain medications, so be on the lookout for special prices.
Certain stores or pharmacies may offer coupons or reward programs. Every rewards program is different, but in general: You can join a store's program (sometimes for free or for a small monthly payment) and earn points based on purchases. You can then use those points towards in-store purchases.
You might also receive other perks like free 1 – 2 day shipping for prescriptions, 24/7 pharmacy consultations, or points for reporting wellness activities like walking or running. There are many reward programs to choose from - CVS ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards, Meijer mPerks, and Rite Aid wellness+ rewards are three examples.
You might think of paper towels or tissues when buying in bulk. But you can also be a bulk shopper with certain prescriptions - the more you buy, the less they cost.
The bulk buying principle might make sense for maintenance drugs that treat chronic conditions. Let's say you have a prescription to treat your chronic heartburn: If you buy 14 tablets of Prilosec, each tablet is $1.43 - a total of $19.98. But if you buy 40 tablets, each one is $0.79 - a total of $33.04. That's 44.75% saved.
Anyone can benefit from buying in bulk: Just be sure to consult with your doctor before you buy a 90-day supply of your prescriptions.
Prescription savings cards provide discounts or coupons for medications at thousands of retailers nationwide. Many companies such as GoodRx and WellRx now offer them. Some even allow you to use them for pet prescriptions.
Prescription savings cards typically show you where a drug is available and what the prices are at certain pharmacies.
Simvastatin is a popular drug used to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack. The average retail price of Simvastatin is around $66.39, but it can be about $3.64 with a prescription savings card.
Prescription savings cards are suitable for almost everyone, including Medicare recipients who want to receive further discounts, those experiencing gaps in medical coverage or students on a tight budget. However, it's important to check out the fine print to see what's covered.
You may qualify for prescription drug assistance programs (PAPs) if you're an early retiree, in between jobs, a senior on a fixed income, or a college student. PAPs offer low-cost or free medication to those who don't have health insurance, are underinsured or can’t afford their medications.
The cost-benefit varies by drug and PAP.
You might save cash if you get your prescription drugs shipped directly to your home. In some cases, you can order a 60- to 90-day supply for a better price than buying the drug in person at your local pharmacy.
Prescription home delivery makes sense for anyone who wants the convenience of not having to travel to the pharmacy to pick up medications. College students living away from home or those without a car might especially benefit from this option.
But first: Check with both your doctor and your insurance company to make sure the home delivery option is available for your specific prescription drug. If you need to ask questions about your medication, picking it up in person at the pharmacy might be a better option for you.
Some pharmaceutical companies offer free trial programs for those in between jobs or facing gaps in insurance.
Think of being a first-time subscriber to Hulu, for example. Hulu might offer you a free week or month before you officially sign up. After all, the goal is to make you a long-term customer. This same concept applies to free trial programs through certain drug companies.
If you have Medicare, you may not have prescription drug coverage. Medicare has four different parts: A, B, C and D. When you enroll in Medicare, you can choose to enroll in Original Medicare (Part A and B) or Medicare Advantage Insurance (Part C). However, you can't enroll in both.
If you choose Original Medicare and want prescription coverage, you must purchase a Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D) from a private company for a monthly fee. A Medicare Advantage plan is all-in-one insurance and most plans include prescription drug benefits. But not all have this benefit, so it's essential to check the fine print.
The good news is that when you're ready to shop for Medicare, you have a few different options.
Medicare recipients can also use "preferred pharmacies" to shop for their prescriptions. Preferred pharmacies are in-network pharmacies that offer lower out-of-pocket costs on medications. If you leave the network, your prescription drugs might not be covered, costing you more money. Preferred pharmacies may offer other benefits like a home delivery for a 90-day supply of your prescription drug.
You don't want to be in a situation where you have to skip taking your medications or put your health in jeopardy. Know that there are ways to save on prescription drugs. And not all health insurance plans include a prescription drug benefit, so review each option closely.