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6 tips to reduce medication costs

Written by 
Caroline Bodian

Article at a glance

  • You may be able to reduce medication costs by asking your doctor or pharmacist to write your prescription for the generic version of the brand-name drug. To learn more about generics, read this section.

  • Doubling your dose of medication and splitting pills in half, if approved by your doctor or pharmacist, could help you save on prescription drug expenses. To learn more about splitting pills, read this section.

  • Some pharmaceutical companies offer discounts on prescription drugs for those in need. To learn more about these programs, read this section.

  • If you qualify for Medicare, choosing the right program or signing up for Extra Help” can make a difference in how much you spend on medication. For more on saving with the right Medicare program, read this section.

Sometimes saving on medication costs is a matter of being a savvy shopper — for example, finding the right coupons or using mail order or online pharmacies. To learn more about these money-saving options, read this section.

A recent survey by the nonpartisan, U.S.-based Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly a quarter of Americans surveyed had trouble paying for their prescription medication. That’s no surprise, given that drug prices in the United States are significantly higher than those in other countries. In fact, prescription drug prices in the United States cost, on average, 2.56 times more than they do in 32 other nations. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can lower your cost of prescription drugs. When your doctor writes a prescription for you, ask him or her to prescribe the generic version. In most cases, even if the brand name is used, your pharmacist may substitute the brand for the generic. You might also qualify for a cost-saving program or be eligible for discounts and giveaways from pharmaceutical companies. Another way to save money is to use a prescription for the generic medication and order it through an online pharmacy, which usually offers discounts — just ask your provider to write you a 3‑month prescription with refills. In many cases, saving on medication costs begins with an open dialogue between you and your healthcare provider.

Split pills

In some cases, you may be able to double the dose of your medication and then split the pills in half to save on prescription drug costs. However, you shouldn’t do this without talking to your doctor or pharmacist first because not all pills are safe to split. Drugs that can be safely cut in half are listed as such by the FDA. Pills that can be safely split generally have a line down the middle where they can be divided. 

A few things to keep in mind: 

  • Split one pill at a time and take both halves (two doses, one at a time) before splitting another

  • Use a pill-splitter and make sure not to split more than half

  • Always check with your doctor before doing this. 

Talk to your doctor

This may seem obvious, but good communication with your doctor can help lessen the cost of prescription drugs. If you think paying for your medicine will be a problem, have an honest conversation with your doctor, who may be able to guide you toward money-saving options.

Get assistance from pharmaceutical companies or charitable programs

Some drug companies offer pharmaceutical assistance programs (PAPs), depending on your health needs as well as your income. You may get a discount card to get prescription medicine for free or at a lower cost. There are websites that can help you find out whether you’re able to get a discount on the drug you’re taking. Examples of these websites include:

There are national and community-based charitable relief programs that offer assistance to those who may not be able to afford medication at full cost and who meet the eligibility requirements. Qualifications vary across programs. A few examples of these programs include:

See if you qualify for Medicare, Medicaid or CHIP

If you enroll in Medicare, it’s a good idea to also enroll in Medicare’s optional drug coverage called Part D, which you need to pay for. Part D covers your prescription drugs up to about $4,100 per year, after which you enter the donut hole” or the gap”. The gap doesn’t mean Medicare will not pay anything, but Part D pays less during the gap. If you need to take many prescriptions, it may be wise to get a supplemental” drug plan to cover the Medicare gap, although that’s a separate cost. 

Additionally, you can get added coverage on Medicare if you qualify for Extra Help. Extra Help is a Medicare and Social Security program that helps people with limited income to cover prescription drug costs. You’re eligible for Extra Help if you meet certain resource and income criteria. Visit Medicare.gov to find out whether you qualify for Extra Help.

You may be able to save on prescription drug costs if you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP. Medicaid is a federal and state insurance program for low-income individuals. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offers insurance for children if their families can’t afford private coverage or if their incomes are too high to qualify them for Medicaid. Those eligible for Medicaid include:

  • Children

  • Pregnant women

  • People 65 and older

  • Adults with low income

  • People with disabilities

Find out whether you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP at USA.gov.

Shop better: mail-order, online pharmacies and coupons

Sometimes you’ll be able to find prescription drugs at a lower cost through a mail-order or online pharmacy. Using your insurance company’s mail-order service may be more cost-effective, especially if you can buy a 60 or 90-day supply. If you’re short on time, mail-order may not be the best choice as it can take up to two weeks to process, though it could save you some money if you’re able to plan ahead. The same goes for online pharmacies. A word of caution: before purchasing through an online pharmacy, you should make sure it’s safe by exploring the FDA’s BeSafeRx page. This will give you the information you need to safely purchase medication through an online pharmacy.

BeSafeRx will help you make sure the pharmacy:

  • Is licensed in the United States

  • Requires a valid prescription from your doctor

  • Has a licensed pharmacist available for questions

  • Has a physical address and phone number in the U.S.

Sometimes reducing medication costs is simply a matter of being a savvy shopper. Websites like GoodRx will help you compare the prices of generics with their brand-name equivalents. You can even find coupons on GoodRx to lower the cost of your medication. Just make sure that you meet all the eligibility requirements to use the coupon.

Dealing with the high costs of prescription drugs can feel overwhelming, especially when combined with the stress of handling an illness or health condition. Remain calm and remember to explore your money-saving options. While the U.S. falls behind other countries on offering affordable brand-name prescription drugs, there are many ways to cut down on medication costs. Finding more affordable medication can be as simple as asking your doctor or pharmacist whether they’ll prescribe a generic version of your medication, if available. In most cases, pharmacists will even offer to fill a prescription with the generic instead of the brand-name drug. In other cases, finding lower-cost alternatives may require research and exploring websites for discounts or filling out applications for programs that provide financial assistance. If you’re not sure where to begin, a simple question to your doctor or pharmacist can save you hundreds of dollars on prescriptions, and that may be your easiest option.

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