How to Save Money at Online and Brick-and-Mortar Pharmacies

Intelligent people, including legislators and even industry experts, will admit that they struggle to understand exactly how prescription drug pricing works in the United States. Here's some background information to help you get started.



How to Save Money at Online and Brick-and-Mortar Pharmacies

U.S. Pharmaceutical Industry Only One Part of a Complex Medical System

The evolving history of the drug store represents the developments and associated attitudes of the larger American medical system. Unfortunately, the complexity of that system has been exploited to drive up the prices of many drugs to unsustainable levels.

Prescription Drug Pricing

Prescription drug prices are generally not regulated, and the complex structure of both medical insurance and pharmaceutical care in the United States make it difficult to determine the actual costs of prescription medications. Patients often end up paying more than necessary for the medications they need; in some cases, patients cannot even afford to refill their prescriptions nor follow the recommended dosage instructions. Many patients may feel that the most choose between the health of their bodies and that of their pocketbooks.

Fortunately, this need not be the case. Since the first online pharmacy opened in the UK in 1999, the online pharmacy industry has grown, and with it the potential for patients to save money on their prescriptions. Whether you are insured or not, taking a little time to apply the following tips can help you save money and have more peace of mind about your health.

What are Pharmacy Benefit Managers?

Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), essentially administrators of corporate prescription insurance plans, conduct drug utilization review, offer extensive clinical programs to help design the best plans, and negotiate with drug manufacturers to obtain discounts and rebates. Manufacturers benefit from having their drugs covered on specific drug coverage plan formularies, PBMs benefit from charging fees for their services, and insurers and patients benefit from the reduced drug prices. However, these reduced prices are not always the lowest cash prices on drugs available to patients.

Types of Prescription Drug Coverage

The most common types of coverage under health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs are: before-deductible, after-deductible, and special deductibles.

Before-deductible prescription insurance subsidizes the cost of each medication before the deductible is reached; the patient pays a co-pay based on each medication’s type and cost. After-deductible coverage requires the patient to pay all or most prescription drug costs out-of-pocket until the deductible is reached. After that point, the insurance will pay 100% of the cost of any further prescriptions. In 2016, the average family plan deductible in 2016 was nearly $8000! Patients with this type of plan stand to benefit tremendously from price shopping to reduce their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. Finally, special deductibles solely for prescription drugs are available under some plans; these deductibles are often significantly lower than the total deductibles under the same plans.

Saving Money in the Drug Store Can Be Daunting, but It Can Be Done

Many patients believe that saving money on medications is a lost cause. Many industry experts would disagree. By thinking of medications like an investment, patients can optimize their savings on prescriptions.

How to Save Money on Your Meds

Every time your doctor writes you a prescription, ask if he or she has a free sample of the prescription to start you off; pharmaceutical companies frequently send these to doctors, so a simple ask can potentially save you money right off the bat.

Ask your doctor for generic prescriptions whenever possible. FDA-approved generic equivalents of brand name drugs are equally effective but often cost 30–80% less than their brand name counterparts, due to competition and the relatively low costs of actual production.

If you are on any chronic prescription medications, ask your doctor if a 90-day prescription is right for your case. 90-day refills are available for many common pharmaceuticals, and they cost significantly less per dose than the same prescriptions filled on a 30-day basis.

Pharmacy discount cards are free to obtain and are valid at nearly all chain retail pharmacies, which are under contract to honor the cards even if they must take a loss on some individual transactions. These discounts are usually valid for a single discounted price per drug, which is likely still not the lowest price available through an online pharmacy.

Do Your Research

As you now know, after your doctor examines you and prescribes remedies for your conditions, taking a little time to examine your options at online pharmacies can help you prescribe for yourself the best remedy for the dilemma of your medical and financial needs.

How to Save Money on Meds Online

Online and mail-order pharmacies can often fill your prescriptions at a reduced cost versus traditional retail pharmacies, due to lower overhead costs such as electric bills and retail employee wages. This is especially true for generic pharmaceuticals, which are often drastically marked up by brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

To order prescription medications online, you will need to log in or create an account, complete a verification process, and show proof of a valid prescription — such as the name of your doctor and either an access code or a prescription number. If your prescription expires and is renewed, the renewal prescription will have a different number. If an online pharmacy does not require proof of your prescriptions, do not trust it. For more information on safety, see the FDA guidelines here.

Coupons for prescription drugs are available on referral sites such as GoodRx and Pharmacy Checker, which allow instant price comparison for all pharmaceuticals available at retail pharmacies near any location in the United States. Prices may change frequently and vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy. Coupons are sporadic and temporary, but they may often provide even steeper discounts than pharmacy discount cards for a given drug.

Cash-only pharmacies such as Medsavers save even more on overhead costs than do typical online pharmacies, by refusing to deal with insurance entirely. They tend to keep only the most common generic pharmaceuticals in stock, ordering brand-name or specialty drugs only upon request. This model allows cash-only pharmacies to pass on a savings of up to 75% on cash purchases of drugs to uninsured or underinsured patients

Advantages of Using Online Pharmacies

Detailed information on practically all medications, conditions, and medical services is available. This allows patients to save time and money that they would otherwise spend driving around or consulting with pharmacists in person. Price comparisons allow patients to find the best prices for the medications they need, rather than the prices that are most profitable to their healthcare providers or local pharmacies. Home delivery of medication saves patients, especially chronically ill patients, the trouble of traveling potentially long distances or waiting in long lines to pick up prescriptions and refills.

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