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How to save on prescription drug prices

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Updated on February 22, 2021

Saving money on prescription drug prices

Many things have changed during the pandemic, but one thing has unhelpfully remained the same. Prescription drug prices are still very high. Even before the pandemic, many Americans began to postpone bill payments, get fewer groceries and delay retirement. A 2018 Consumer Reports survey of 1,200 adults taking prescription drugs found that for those who had experienced an increase in their medication prices:

  • 30% did not fill a prescription
  • 20% switched to a supplement, over-the-counter medication, or an alternative treatment
  • 18% took expired medication
  • 16% did not take the medication as often as prescribed
  • 15% cut pills in half and took a half dose without a doctor’s approval

Fortunately, there’s are secrets to getting cheaper medications: Get medications at a higher dosage or get an increased quantity at one time. Let’s explain.

Increase quantity of pills

According to a University of Chicago study, asking for a 3 month supply of medications to treat chronic conditions versus every 30 days can decrease out-of-pocket costs up to 29%.

  • Forty-four percent of prescriptions examined during this study were prescribed as 3 month supplies.
  • The average monthly total and out-of-pocket costs for a 1-month supply were $42.72 and $20.44, respectively. The corresponding monthly expenses for a 3-month supply were $37.95 and $15.10.
  • This represented a 29% decrease in out-of-pocket costs and an 18% decrease in total prescription costs using of a 3-month verses a 1-month supply.
  • Eighty percent of people surveyed achieved cost savings from a 3-month supply

When prescriptions are filled every 30 days, an insurance copay is made each time. With a 3 month supply, a copay is only made every three months.

Get a higher dosage of medication

Harvard Health suggests getting a double dose of your prescription in one pill. Some prescription medications can be divided with a pill splitter. Maintenance prescriptions for many chronic conditions, such as blood pressure, anxiety & depression, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction, can be split in two.

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You can potentially save money by paying for fewer pills at a higher dose and dividing them in half. Some health insurance companies even offer a formal program for tablet splitting.

Many pills that can be safely split have a score. This is a line down the middle of the tablet that allows for easier, accurate splitting. Ask your healthcare provider if this is an option for you.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finds this practice to be acceptable for certain medications. They list some best practices and safety guidelines. For instance:

  • FDA-approved tablets that can be safely split say so on the packaging.
  • If this information is not on the label, the FDA has not evaluated the tablet to ensure the two halves would be equivalent when split.
  • Only split pills as you need them, and divide more tablets once you have used up the half versions.
  • Remember to split the medication or risk taking a double dose with potential side effects.

Note that not all pills can be split safely. Extended, sustained and timed-released medications have a special coating that allows the medication to work over a longer period, which may also be irritating to your stomach if crushed. Splitting these types of drugs might release the dose all at one time and produce unwanted side effects.

Be sure to check The Institute for Safe Medication Practices “Do Not Crush” list to make sure your medication isn’t on it.

Key takeaways

Medication prices remain high, even during the pandemic. Instead of choosing between putting food on the table, paying bills or taking your medication as prescribed, options are available to save money on prescription drugs. Look into receiving a 90-day supply of your medication or getting it in a higher dosage and splitting it to reduce your costs.

In addition, savings programs, such as prescription discount coupons, also help reduce out-of-pocket costs. Learn more about discount coupons at Optum Perks.