Elisabeth is a 13-time Emmy winner, a critically acclaimed personal finance author, and a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. Connect with her on Twitter @ElisabethLeamy and on her website, Leamy.com.
When I mentioned to friends and family that my latest segment on The Dr. Oz Show was about how to get prescription medications at a discount, they asked, “Isn’t the Affordable Care Act supposed to cover prescriptions so we don’t have to worry about that anymore?” The answer is yes – and no. The law requires that all health plans sold on the exchanges include prescription drug coverage, but it doesn’t require those plans to cover all drugs, so many insurers have chosen not to cover the priciest ones. That’s why many Americans are still searching for ways to cut the monthly costs of their medications. Here are several ways to do just that.
Storm the Clubs: Save Up to 77 Percent
Warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club have some of the lowest prices around on prescriptions. And here’s a little known secret: You don’t have to be a member to fill a prescription at these clubs! They allow nonmembers to use their pharmacies. You just march right up, and when the employee at the entrance asks for your membership card, explain that you are going to the pharmacy.
Sign Up for Discount Cards. Save up to 70 Percent
Some discount cards are a membership benefit of organizations you may already belong to like AAA and AARP. There are also free ones available online. Two reputable ones are NeedyMeds.org and TogetherRXAccess to get you started. Many pharmacies also offer their own discount clubs for as little as $20. Discount cards are different than insurance. In fact, you can only use them for prescriptions not covered by insurance.
Split Your Pills: Save up to 50 Percent
Many medications cost roughly the same regardless of the number of milligrams in each tablet. For example, let’s take a popular cholesterol drug. A month’s supply of 20mg pills costs $127. But a month’s supply of 40mg pills also costs $127. If your prescription is to take one tablet twice a day, instead of buying a month’s supply of 20mg tablets, you can buy half as many of the 40mg ones and cut them in into 20mg tablets. By cutting your pills in half, you’re also cutting the price in half. IMPORTANT: Not all pills are safe to cut. Please check with your doctor first.
Grow Your Pills: Save up to 70 Percent
Think of this as the opposite of pill splitting. Often a doctor will start you on a low dose of a medicine, like 10mg, and then ramp up the dosage as your needs become clear. At first, it might make sense to just take more of the low-dose tablets you already have, to use them up. But if you keep doing it that way, you are wasting money, because, as noted above, often each tablet costs the same amount regardless of strength. So, for example, rather than taking four 10mg pills, ask your doctor to “grow your pills,” by prescribing one 40mg pill.
Go Online (Carefully): Save up to 93 Percent
A lot of people are leery of ordering medications over the Internet, but there is a way to scope out the legitimate online pharmacies. Look for the VIPPS seal on the site, which stands for “Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site.” Just click on the seal, and if the pharmacy is legit, you will be linked to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy for verification. It’s a “living seal,” that way shady pharmacies can’t just throw up a fake seal. This designation assures the online pharmacy complies with the licensing and inspection requirements of the state where it is located.
Skip Your Insurance: Save up to 69 Percent
The average prescription co-pay is $13. But these days Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and many other pharmacies offer hundreds of the most common generic medications for a flat $4. Wal-Mart started this trend several years ago and other stores followed the giant’s lead. It sounds counterintuitive, but you should always ask the cash price of your prescription in case it’s lower than your co-pay. If you take multiple medications, this can really add up!