How To Save Money On Prescription Drugs

With health insurance rising what seems like everyday, people are trying to cut costs as much as possible. Some costs cannot be changed, such as how much your doctor charges, how often you have to see the doctor, or the need to take prescription medication.

Working in a retail pharmacy for close to 8 years I have learned a few things about saving money on medicine, and will touch on 6 ways that you can save money, and 3 ways people think they will save money but actually wont.

Ways To Save Money

Insurance Formulary
The first thing you should do is either go online or call your insurance. They set the price you pay for your medication and have a list of what is covered, what isn’t covered, and how much each will be.

Pay close attention to this though, even if it says that something is covered sometimes there will be a “*” next to it saying it requires a “prior authorization”. This is very very common and not something to be alarmed by. It will however require a delay on filling your prescription as additional paperwork needs to be filled out by your doctor for the insurance to cover the medicine at the price given on your formulary.

Discount Card
If you don’t have insurance a good way to save money on medicine is through a discount card. Most pharmacies will have their own that is free or require a small annual fee (usually no more than $20). However if you check your local newspaper or just google “prescription discount card” you can find some that will give you a discount at no cost to you.

This only works if you haven’t already tried and failed all of the generics in that class, or if there are generics. Many times people come in to the pharmacy and say “it says there is a generic online”. Truth is every medicine has a generic name whether it has “gone generic” or not. This is a requirment of the drug companies to label all their products with the generic name even on day 1 of it coming out.

So ask if it does in fact have a generic if it does odds are your pharmacy will automatically change it to the generic. If it doesn’t than you can ask your doctor to change your medicine to something that does have a generic.

Fill For 90 Days
If the medicine is something you will be on for a long time or even for life, consider getting it filled for a 90 day supply. If you have enough refills on your prescription many states will allow the pharmacy to simply fill it from that, so check your specific states laws to be sure they can change it without permission from the doctor.

If you do need permission, or simply want to make it easier one everyone, when you’re at your doctor’s appointment ask that your medicine be written for a 90 day supply. This will make it easier when it comes to getting refills and making sure it is in fact filled for that amount every time.

A word of caution here though, sometimes you will get a prescription written for 90 days, and your pharmacy will attempt to fill it for that amount, but your insurance will only cover a 30 day supply. Be mindful of that before going through the hassle of getting everything set up for the 90 day supply.

Pharmacy specific plans
Sometimes someone will ask why my prices are different than my competitor down the road, truth is I have no control over how much your insurance says to charge you. However what many people don’t know is that your insurance actually has “preferred” pharmacies that they have negotiated prices with that will cost you less in the long run.

Even if you do have the same copay at whatever pharmacy you go to check to see which one is preferred anyway, especially if you have medicare part d. Sometimes your copay will be the same at the start of the year but you will go through your allotted amount quickly and end up spending way more near the end of the year when you need the money the most.

Brand Co-Pay Card
Many brand medications have whats called a “Co-Pay” card. A simple google search will tell you if it does, however make sure that it is from the actual manufacture and not just another discount card promising to save “up to 75% off” because it won’t.

Also when a medication first goes generic odds are there will be a copay card for the brand medication. The one that comes to mind right now is Celebrex®. This went generic about a year ago, and as soon as it did a co-pay card came out to get the brand for as little as $4 (many times the generic co-pay isn’t that low).

A word of caution here as well, sometimes (such as with the Celebrex® example) the co-pay card will say “as little as $4”, but if you read the fine print it will only save a certain amount maximum. For instance, if your co-pay through the insurance is $150 but the card only saves up to $75 then your cost will end up being $75 not $4. It will only be for if your co-pay without the card is $79 or less (79-75=4)

Ways that Wont Save Money

Cutting Pills In Half
I have read article after article that says this is a valid way to save money (there is a way to do it right, more on that in a moment). Then someone comes into my pharmacy with a prescription that is exactly that, and they tell me it’s so they can save money.

If you have the prescription written to be cut in half the pharmacy legally has to fill it that way with the correct day supply. So no instead of getting 30 pills and it lasting you 60 days as you intended you are now going to be getting 15 pills and it will last you 30 days.

You may thing that you will then pay less, the truth is if you are billing insurance odds are that your co-pay will be the same as long as it is a 30 day supply. So whether you get it filled for 15 or 30 if the directions make that amount a 30 day supply than the co-pay will be the same.

The exceptions to this are, if you’re paying cash, using a discount card, or if the doctor writes it incorrectly (taking one whole pill) and than verbally tells you just to take a half. I’m not saying that’s legal or not (please see a lawyer I’m far from one) but those are the options.

Discount card
I know I spent time telling you how great discounts cards are, and for those without insurance they are. However, many times people come in who have GREAT insurance and hand me a discount card because they want to apply it to their cost as well. I cannot bill both, no one can, it’s one or the other and 99.99999% of the time your insurance will save you many times more than the discount card. Remember odds are you aren’t spending any money for these discount cards and free is not always free and sometimes won’t help.

Brand Co-Pay Card
I love co-pay cards, they help save money on expensive brand medication, they make it so people can get the medicine they actually need instead of settling on whatever the insurance will cover. However if you have government assistance program (medicare, medicaid, tricare) most likely you are not eligible to use the co-pay card.

Check the fine print on the card but you probably can’t use it. Also if you live in Massachusetts (I have no idea why just that you can’t if anyone knows the reason PLEASE put it in the comments or email me).


With the cost of nearly everything going up it’s great to have a plan in place to save wherever you can. With the tips provided here you may be able to save a few dollars or a few thousand dollars depending on the medication and how often you get it.

With that saved money why not pay down some debt, or save for a vacation or invest in your future.

What are some of the ways you have used to save money on prescriptions? Have they always worked like you thought they would? If you have any questions about certain discounts/insurance please let me know I’ll do my best to answer.

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*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, A Disease Called Debt and Saving Scotts*

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