If You Want to Save Money on Your Prescriptions Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

People across the United States have learned the harsh realities of prescription medication economics. And we’ve started taking drastic actions to get our costs down.

In its April 2018 article, How to Pay Less for Your Meds,¹ Consumer Reports shared these statistics from a survey of 1,200 people who experienced increased prescription costs within 12 months of the survey:

  • 45% spent less on entertainment and dining out
  • 32% spent less on groceries
  • 32% spent less on family
  • 31% used a credit card more often
  • 21% delayed paying other bills
  • 12% put off retirement to keep their insurance
  • 8% took a second job

When it came to actual treatment and the purchase of medication, the survey found that:

  • 30% of respondents didn’t fill a high-cost prescription
  • 27% skipped a medical procedure altogether
  • 26% delayed seeing the doctor
  • 20% substituted the high-cost medication with a supplement, an over-the-counter medication, or a non-drug treatment
  • 18% took expired medication
  • 16% didn’t take the medication as often as instructed
  • 15% used a pill splitter to cut their pills, without a doctor’s approval

In a world of longer lives and medical conditions requiring treatment becoming the rule rather than the exception, prescriptions have become a necessity for staying healthy. So how do we balance the need for medications with the need to eat and pay the bills?

  • Ask your doctor which meds you really need. Surprisingly, many times you’ll find a drug you can do without. In a 2017 survey of more than 1,000 adults with prescription costs, Consumer Reports found that 70 percent of respondents were able to eliminate at least one of their prescriptions.
  • Ask if cheaper alternatives exist. Doctors tend to default to certain medications out of habit, but can often prescribe cheaper, equally effective drugs.
  • Check into 90-day supplies. Buying a three-month supply of your medication will usually save you at least a couple of dollars, sometimes much more.
  • Ask your pharmacist for the best price. This is a big one. Contracts with pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) frequently restrict pharmacists from sharing this kind of information with you unless you ask.

In her November 2017 report for NBC 26 in Green Bay, WI², reporter Mallory Sofastaii explains that PBMs work as middlemen, negotiating drug costs with manufacturers, then negotiating a selling price to insurers. They also dictate what they will reimburse a pharmacy for that drug. All three prices may be different.

The PBMs pocket the clawback, the difference between their selling price and what you pay for the prescription.

Asking pharmacists for the best price and how to get it releases them from the restrictions of any confidentiality agreements with the PBMs.

And finally, always shop around.

  • Prescription prices can vary by hundreds of dollars from place to place.

1. Gill, Lisa L., How to Pay Less for Your Meds, Consumer Reports, April 2018.


2. Mallory Sofastaii, NBC 26, Green Bay, WI, November 20, 2017.


About the Author

Nathan graduated from the Professional Writing Program at the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a minor in history. He earned his Master’s of Business Administration from Webster University. While working in newspaper, his stories appeared regularly above the fold and appeared on the AP Western Wire and in the Multiple Sclerosis Organization’s magazine.

Nate S is a freelance writer who writes about business.