Spending

How to keep your costs down as prescription drug prices go up

Twenty/20

The average American spends $1,200 per year on prescription medications, and prices are still increasing. Congress and the White House are working on long-term solutions, including proposals at the federal level and in state legislatures that could allow patients to access cheaper medicine by importing drugs from countries like Canada.

That should give consumers hope, says David Mitchell, founder of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs. "I've never seen this much movement on real, substantive legislation," he says.

But in the short term, it's still on you to find ways to cut costs.

Here are ways experts suggest you save money on your prescriptions.

1. Communicate with your doctor

Perhaps the single best savings strategy is to be open and upfront with your doctor about what you can afford — that's what physician Davis Liu, chief clinical officer at telemedicine provider Lemonaid Health told Grow earlier this year. If your doctor knows it's important to you, they may be able to steer you toward less-expensive treatment options.

2. Take advantage of the season

Fall is when most people choose their health plan for the next calendar year, either through open enrollment with their employer or on the state-based exchanges. If you have ongoing prescription needs, this upcoming season is a good opportunity to shop around and compare plans' drug coverage and your out-of-pocket costs.

You may also be able to enroll in a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA) for next year that lets you put aside pre-tax dollars to cover health care expenses, including prescription medications.

Prescription drug spending on the rise
U.S. per-capita retail prescription drug spending has more than doubled since 2000.
Per-capita retail prescription drug spending
kiersten schmidt/grow Kaiser Family Foundation

3. Buy generic

Generic drugs can cost up to 85% less than their name-brand counterparts, according to the FDA. That assumes a generic is on the market, though, and one may not be. Your doctor should be able to tell you.

Pharmacies at big box stores such as Walmart or Costco often have especially good deals on generics, Liu says. "Walmart has $4 prescriptions for a 30-day supply," he says, citing the retailer's list of available generic drugs.

4. Ask for discounts

Some drug manufacturers offer discounts or rebates as an incentive for both retailers and consumers to purchase their drugs. For example, prescription prenatal vitamin brand CitraNatal offers a savings card that offers up to $50 off per month, pushing prices as low as $20.

Before you visit the pharmacy, check the drug manufacturer's site to see if there are any discounts or rebates, or if there's a patient assistance program.

5. Use price-comparison tools

Take advantage of prescription price-matching sites and apps that can help you find coupons and other discounts to dramatically drop your out-of-pocket expenses at the pharmacy. One such service, GoodRx, claims it saved consumers $1 billion in 2016 alone. A similar service, Rx Saver by RetailMeNot, says that 14% of its users save at least 80% on their prescription costs.

I've never seen this much movement on real, substantive legislation.
David Mitchell
Founder, Patients for Affordable Drugs

Pharmacy chain CVS has its own savings tool called Pharmacy Rx Savings Finder, which the store is rolling out to users over the course of 2019.

To give you an idea of the potential savings, a GoodRx roundup of prices and discounts for Prednisone — commonly used to treat asthma, allergies, and arthritis — found prices as low as $2.00 for 10 20 mg tablets. That's an 83% savings from the average retail price.

6. Check independent pharmacies

Don't just compare prices at big-name chain pharmacies. Smaller and independent pharmacies had much better pricing on eight of 12 commonly prescribed medications, according to a recent report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, with bigger pharmacies charging anywhere from 8% to 840% more.

Why government attempts to lower prices have stalled

Mitchell says that the main reason costs aren't coming down is mostly due to gridlock in government and powerful lobbying efforts by drug companies to keep prices where they are.

Many attempts by Congress and the White House over the past year failed to have any meaningful impact on lowering drug prices. Among them: A new rule that would have compelled transparent pricing in advertising was blocked in federal court. A proposal to give drug rebates to consumers at pharmacies, meanwhile, was shelved due to price concerns. And the Trump administration recently backed away from an idea to reform Medicare rules that would have lowered drug prices.

The White House has also teased an executive order on drug pricing by President Trump, but no details have been made public.

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