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10 Ways to Find Cheaper Prescriptions

Hal Bundrick

The world of prescription drugs is known for its cast of prancing seniors in scenic locales on commercials that air during the evening news. However, because drug prices are not fixed or regulated in the U.S., the reality is less road trip and more highway robbery. How can you find cheaper prescriptions? Here's a roadmap for medication discounts.

Use coupons. Major discount stores and pharmacies spend a bundle on direct mail, fliers and coupons. They can be well worth your time to thumb through for prescription savings, but the Internet makes the search even easier. Websites and smartphone apps like goodrx.com compare drug prices at pharmacies near you. Other apps offering similar price comparison tools or discounts include: lowestmed.com, Prescription Saver (app available on iTunes) and OTC plus (also on iTunes). Also ask your pharmacist about pharmacy discount cards that can save you another 10 to 25 percent.

Try before you buy. Asking your physician for a free sample of a new drug is a good way to save money, at least in the short term. Using a 10- or 14-day trial will help you decide if the prescription is right for you, and in the meantime you can shop for a discount on a longer-term supply. Drug manufacturers often offer 30-day free trials of medications through magazine coupons and online discounts.

Opt for generics. Nearly 80 percent of prescriptions filled in America are for generic drugs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Choosing generic drugs can be another way to cut the cost of medications. Generics are the bio-equivalent of brand-name drugs, but cost 80 to 85 percent less - saving consumers about $3 billion every week in 2010, the FDA reports.

Even bigger savings may be ahead, as the 17-year patent on a number of popular drugs will expire in the next few years, including Nexium, Celebrex and others. Therefore, even if you haven't been able to find a generic alternative for your prescription in the past, there's a good chance you will soon.

Check out government programs. Many states offer drug assistance programs that help eligible seniors close the prescription coverage gaps of Medicare Part D as well as find treatments for patients of all ages. You can find a program near you at medicare.gov.

Consider over-the-counter drugs. Your doctor might also recommend an over-the-counter alternative to a regular prescription. Just make sure to ask before he or she hands you the prescription.

Ask your doctor about pill splitting. Ask your physician if your prescription is appropriate for pill splitting. Buying a higher dosage pill that can be spliced in half can save a substantial amount of money. Of course, some pills aren't suitable for splitting such as time-release or coated capsules. Splitting pills can be difficult, but many pharmacies sell handy devices that can cut pills of any shape in half.

Order by mail. Purchasing longer-term supplies by mail can lower your costs, too. We're not talking about buying from shady fraudsters on the Internet, but drug fulfillment services that are accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. These "Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites" comply with licensing and inspection laws as well as patient privacy and quality assurance standards. Look for the VIPPS seal when shopping online.

Look into patient assistance programs. Pharmaceutical companies and nonprofit organizations offer grants and discounts to patients in financial need. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance is an industry initiative and free service that offers information regarding more than 475 public and private programs, including 200 assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. Needymeds.org is a similar service worth checking out, too.

Buy from a wholesale club. Many wholesale clubs, such as Costco and Sam's Clubs, offer prescription drugs at a discount. Sometimes they won't require a membership for prescription purchases. Wholesale club members who don't have insurance coverage for prescription medications can also join prescription programs and earn discounts up to 40 percent off the regular cost.

Shop local and ask. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Your local pharmacist wants to maintain a solid, loyal customer base and may be happy to help you reduce your costs in exchange for your recurring visits. Local mom and pop pharmacies will often strike a bargain, especially if you are purchasing with cash.

How Not to Save

One way not to save money on pharmaceutical drugs is by skipping doses or delaying to fill a prescription. Adults who don't take their prescription drugs are more likely to suffer poor health and have increased visits to emergency room, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. Instead, use these tips, and talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about prescription prices.

Hal Bundrick is a certified financial planner and former financial advisor and senior investment specialist for Wall Street firms. He writes about retirement accounts and personal finance, including the cost of health care, for the personal finance site NerdWallet.

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