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How to save money on medicines

Out-of-pocket costs for prescription medicines can really add up. The good news is that there may be ways to save on drug costs. Start by switching to generic options or signing up for a discount program. Here are some other safe ways to save on medicines.

Switch to Generics

Generic drugs are copies of brand name drugs. They have the same exact medicine as a brand-name drug. A generic is approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The brand-name drug costs more because of the research that went into making it. The generic drug is the same drug, and it costs less money.

You might also be able to buy a "therapeutic equivalent" at a lower cost. This is a different drug formula, but it treats the same condition. It may work just as well.

Ask your health care provider if there is a generic option or a similar, less expensive, medicine for the drug you are taking.

Splitting Pills

You may be able to order a double dose of your medicine, and split the pills in half. It depends on the type of medicine and the dose you are taking. In some cases, it can save you money.

The FDA has a list of drugs that can be split safely. If the pill is approved for splitting, there will be a note in the "How Supplied" section of the medicine label. There will also be a line across the pill to show you where to split it. You should only split one pill at a time and use up both halves before splitting another pill.

DO NOT split pills without talking with your provider first. Some drugs may be harmful if split before use.

Mail Order or Online Pharmacies

Try to find a good mail-order pharmacy for your long-term medicines. Your health plan may offer one to you. You can order a 90-day supply and may have a lower copay.

Also, you can search online for good mail-order prices. Then check with your health plan to make sure the medicines you buy from the program will be covered before you order.

Remember, not everything on the internet is safe. Check with your health plan or provider before you buy to make sure the program is safe.

Discount Programs or Supplemental Coverage

You may be eligible for a drug assistance program. It depends on your income and health needs. Some pharmaceutical companies offer these programs. They are also called "patient assistance programs." You may get a discount card, free, or low-cost medicines. You can apply directly to the drug company for the medicine you are taking.

Websites such as NeedyMeds (www.needymeds.org/) and Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org) can help you find assistance for the medicines you are taking.

Some states and health insurance plans also offer assistance programs. Check with your health plan and local government websites.

If you are over 65, look into supplemental drug coverage (Medicare Part D). This optional insurance coverage can help you pay for your medicines.

Use Medicines Wisely

Take all of your medicines as directed to avoid problems that can lead to illness and out-of-pocket expense. Tell your provider if you are taking other medicines, herbal supplements, or over-the-counter drugs.

Build a good relationship with your pharmacist. Your pharmacist can look out for you, recommend ways to save money, and make sure all the drugs you take are safe.

Manage your condition. One of the best ways to save money on health care costs is to stay healthy.

Check with your provider at each visit to make sure you need to continue taking medicines. There may be other ways to manage your condition that cost less.

Use Caution

Only purchase medicines from a licensed US pharmacy. DO NOT buy medicines from foreign countries to save money. The quality and safety of these medicines is not known.

When to Call the Doctor

Talk with your provider if:

  • You are having trouble paying for your medicines
  • You have questions or concerns about your medicines

References

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Saving money on prescription drugs. Updated May 4, 2016. www.fda.gov/Drugs/EmergencyPreparedness/BioterrorismandDrugPreparedness/ucm134215.htm. Accessed October 14, 2016.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Best practices for tablet splitting. Updated August 23, 2013. www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/ucm184666.htm. Accessed October 14, 2016.

Review Date 7/22/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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