How to Find Low-Cost Prescription Drugs


Studies have shown that as many as one in five older patients with chronic health problems are cutting back on their medications simply because they cost too much, according to John Piette, Ph.D., a senior research scientist and professor at the University of Michigan. "Prescription drug costs are a very big problem for Americans, especially for those who are elderly or have chronic medical problems," Piette says.

Despite the costs, many people get into the routine of going to the same pharmacy every month to have prescriptions filled, typically because it is the closest and most convenient option. But driving a mile or two down the road could save you hundreds of dollars each month. That is because the price of drugs varies according to the pharmacy providing them, and in some cases, the difference can be significant.

Take, for example, 84-year-old Margaret. Every month she goes to the same pharmacy, less than a mile from her home, to have her prescriptions filled. compared prices between her pharmacy and two others, all within three miles of each other. Results showed that if Margaret were to drive a mile further down the road, she could save nearly $200 per month on her monthly prescriptions.

Here are the results of the pharmacy comparison:

Levoxyl, 50 mg$41.95$35.13$14.00
Lisinopril, 30 mg$81.95$22.64$44.49
Atacand, 32 mg$279.95$235.12$255.49
Sular, 10 mg$196.95$194.93$209.49
Toprol-XL, 50 mg$94.95$63.53$81.99
Nortriptylin, 10 mg$27.95$10.00$14.00
Warfarin, 3mg$58.95$32.51$51.49

*Pricing is per 100 tablets.
*Note: Your health insurance plan, Medicaid, Medicare or Medigap may pay for some or all prescription drugs costs. Check with your provider for more detailed coverage information.

Prices varied at these pharmacies by as much as 35 percent. Even with gas prices factored in, it is well worth the drive to take advantage of the extra savings.

Because pharmacies compete with each other, they often run special promotions that can save consumers even more. For example, Target and Wal-Mart both have $4 generic prescription programs in all their U.S. locations. Each store offers over 300 different drugs for $4 per prescription fill or refill, up to a 30-day supply.

View a printable list of all qualifying drugs at Wal-Mart

In addition, Piette says, "There are a lot of new drugs out there to keep patients healthy, but more than half of patients don't tell their physician or nurse when they stop taking a medication. They're not only risking their health, but they're also missing out on real opportunities to get help finding cheaper medications or programs that can assist them with costs," he says.

Doing your homework and working with your physician to manage prescription medication costs can result in substantial savings and could mean the difference between whether or not a patient gets the treatement they need. It is also important to weigh the benefits of having one pharmacist manage all the medications a person takes versus driving to different pharmacies to avoid dangerous drug interactions.

Helpful Resources

State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs
21 states and one territory offer assistance with paying drug costs. Find out if your state has a program.

Nationwide Non-Profit Prescription Drug Assistance Programs

RX Assist
RxAssist offers a comprehensive database of patient assistance programs as well as news and articles.

RX Hope
Research government and corporate sponsored patient assistance programs for over 1000 medications.

Together Rx Access
A savings card for people who are not eligible for Medicare and have no prescription drug coverage.

PS Card
A discount drug card that is free and accepted at 53,000 pharmacies nationwide.

The Cost Containment Research Institute
A free, downloadable book (also available via mail) titled "Free and Low-Cost Prescription Drugs" includes 103 free and low-cost programs and 1,104 drug listings.

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My husband has made a habit of going to the local pharmacy because the pharmacist is his "buddy". No doubt this has cost us tremendously. But I do not think we are alone in this situation. Local pharmacists can make it easy to do business -- they provide advice, counsel and a more personal face on a difficult medical situation. This article caused us to examine his meds and explore our options. We will be making treks to various chains in the future to get some substantial savings.
To suggest that people can save money by shopping around is certainly legitimate. However I challenge the prospect of having people use different pharmacies for different medications to save a few bucks. Using one pharmacist is very important when people are taking multiple medications. Only your trusted pharmacist, one who actually talks to you, can recognize potential dangers of mixing medications. This is especially true when multiple medical practitioners are prescribing for an individual. A pharmacist who is filling all of your medications can easily recognize hazardous mixing of potential harmful combinations of drugs, contraindications, and even duplications. Not to mention having the opportunity to suggest discontinuation of a drug that may be prescribed for a disease state being treated by another med prescribed by someone else, ultimately saving you money! The value of trusting in one pharmacist to oversee all of your medications far outwieghs that of traipsing around town all month searching out a bargain.
The editors of couldn't agree more with Annalise. Although one drug may cost less at pharmacy A, and another drug costs less at pharmacy B, we did not mean to imply that you should use different pharmacies. Rather, the point was to compare the TOTAL cost for your monthly medications, then consider going to the pharmacy for offers the overall best price. But, use that same pharmacist for all your prescriptions.

It is very important to deal with one pharmacist only, to avoid potential dangerous effects of mixing medications.