• 4-Minute Article
  • |
  • Mar 09, 2018

7 Tips for Saving on Prescription Drugs

Help cut the cost of medical expenses in retirement with these strategies.

Created in Collaboration with Kiplinger.

Questions this article can help you answer:
  • How can I save money on my prescriptions?
  • How can I find the generic form of a brand-name drug?
  • Where can I check prices for the medicines I need?

Healthcare continues to be one of the leading expenses retirees face.1 The rise in prescription drug prices is a major driver of healthcare spending in the U.S. In 2020, Americans will see the price of most prescription drugs increase by 7%, and the cost of specialty drugs rise by 15%. Those figures represent a rate that is rising faster than wages and the cost of living.2

Preparing for these costs – and taking steps to make them more affordable – can help reduce medical expenses in retirement.

Shop Smart

Prices can vary widely across pharmacies, even those that are within the same ZIP code. Call around, check online resources to compare prices, or ask for price-matching at a favorite pharmacy. To scout out the lowest prices and discounts for FDA-approved prescription drugs across neighborhood pharmacies, consider using websites and mobile apps like these:

  • GoodRx
  • RxSaver
  • ScriptSave WellRx

Source: The Shocking Rise of Prescription Drug Prices. Consumer Reports, November 26, 2019.

Buy Generic Brands

Ninety percent of prescriptions filled in the U.S. today are for generic drugs.3 According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, generics are the same as brand-name drugs in dosage, safety, effectiveness, and strength.4 Generics also offer an average of 39-95% cost savings over their brand-name counterparts, depending on the number of competing generic drug makers per product.5 Plus, some health plans have a $0 co-pay for preferred generics.

To find the generic version of a brand-name medicine, try these steps:

  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor for generic options
  • Search your insurer’s online drug list or app
  • Use the FDA’s Orange Book to find generic equivalents
  • Check out the FDA’s First Generic Drug Approvals list for recent generic approvals

Costs of various types of prescriptions

Consider Therapeutic Substitutions

If a drug has no generic equivalent, ask your doctors if there are less expensive alternatives (brand name or generic) to treat the same condition. These “therapeutic substitutions” aren’t exact chemical replicas of the brand-name drugs they replace. But they’re in the same class of medications and may work in similar ways.

Who takes prescription drugs and how many prescribed medicines do Americans take

Source: Data Note: Prescription Drugs and Older Adults, Kaiser Family Foundation, August 9, 2019; Prescription Drug Use Among Adults Aged 40–79 in the United States and Canada, National Center for Health Statistics, August 2019. 1 Among all adults age 40-79.

Use a Preferred Pharmacy

Most Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and many pre-65 health plans now include a preferred pharmacy with lower cost-sharing. Before picking a plan, make sure any local preferred pharmacies are convenient. You can also search for plans that include a specific pharmacy.

Rely on Mail Order and Extended Quantities

Mail-order pharmacy programs operate through your insurer’s pharmacy benefit manager who buys in bulk directly from drug makers. Those programs offer lower costs and may be especially beneficial for any drugs taken on a regular basis. Similarly, 90-day supplies offer significant savings and convenience over 30-day quantities.

1 of 5 older adults say they received discounts on a prescription drug in the past year either through a coupon, a co-pay card, a drug company patient assistance program, or some other type of discount

Source: Data Note: Prescription Drugs and Older Adults. Kaiser Family Foundation, August 9, 2019.

Visit needymeds.org to find out about different prescription and medical supply assistance programs, rebates, and more.

Challenge Coverage Denial

Healthcare plan coverage for pricier drugs is sometimes denied because the medications aren’t on the plan’s formulary – a tiered list of approved medicines. If coverage is denied for a prescribed drug, check to see if the only obstacle is pre-authorization paperwork that the patient or doctor can complete. Regardless, there’s likely an alternative drug covered by insurance – often at a lower cost.

Ask for Free Samples

Pharmaceutical representatives often leave behind brand-name samples with doctors and it could be beneficial to ask if any appropriate samples are available. First, doctors may use the samples to test how a new long-term medication is tolerated before you buy an entire month’s worth; and second, for a short course of treatment, a sample pack may be all that’s needed.

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