Elizabeth Davis

Posted on September 25, 2019

Patients in the United States wasted $418 billion on medication-related costs in 2012, according to pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts. Part of that unnecessary spending is overpaying for prescriptions, and part of it is additional medical costs associated with not taking medicines as prescribed.

If you think you may be spending too much at the pharmacy, chances are, you are. Not surprisingly, healthcare spending is the number one financial problem that U.S. families face. The good news is that you can cut your costs and prevent future issues by avoiding 5 costly mistakes at the pharmacy.

1. Taking a brand-name drug when there’s a generic available

FDA-approved generic drugs are the same as the brand in dose, strength, quality, how you take them, and how safe they are. There can still be differences in inactive ingredients, so you may have a preference for brand versus generic that will affect your decision. 

Insurance companies will often refuse to cover a brand name drug if there is a generic available. This could mean the difference between a $10 copay and $100 out of pocket. If you don’t have prescription insurance, you’ll feel the whole difference yourself. Even newly-released generics with no competition will rarely save you less than 10% compared to the brand, and prices tend to drop over time. 

Let’s look at the example of a drug that lowers levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. The brand­-name version of the drug is called Lipitor, and on average the cash price is about $450 for 30 tablets of 40 mg. The generic version atorvastatin, on the other hand, goes for as low as $6 for the same quantity and dosage. 

2. Buying a 30-day supply instead of 90, and not using mail order

If your prescription and your finances allow it, a 90-day supply or more will almost always help you save more. Let’s look at the example of the popular generic type 2 diabetes medication metformin. A 30-day supply of 500 mg tablets can be as low as $4 cash (or free with certain pharmacy memberships). A 90-day supply can be as low as $6.50 cash (or again, free with a pharmacy membership). So although the price for the 90-day supply is higher, you’re paying less per pill. Always check to see if getting a higher quantity of your medication will help you save in the long run. 

Whether or not you’re insured, mail order can also be less expensive, and many brick and mortar pharmacies offer mail order services. As an added bonus for your health, having your prescriptions delivered has been shown to be good for adherence–that means you’ll be more likely to keep taking the medicines you need and have them available before you run out. 

3. Not taking medications as prescribed, or stopping treatment without talking to your doctor

This tends to be the number one category of unnecessary spending, for a couple of reasons. Part of the problem is paying for drugs that you don’t use or that don’t fulfill their purpose. But the biggest problem is the consequence of not sticking to prescribed treatments. 

Here’s an example: If you quit taking an antibiotic as soon as you feel better but before it actually runs out, it hasn’t finished working. This means you may need more, stronger antibiotics (translation: more money) to take care of the infection later. If you stop taking your cholesterol or blood pressure medication, you could end up with hospital bills and other medical expenses if a heart condition develops or worsens.

4. Not shopping around to find the lowest price

Try using Good Rx as a tool to help you shop around and find lower prices. It’s simple: go to goodrx.com, type in the name of your medication, and then browse the prices at local pharmacies. You can also download a free coupon for your medication and take it with you to the pharmacy, or use the coupon directly from your smartphone. 

Patients who use Good Rx save up to 80% on their prescriptions, so it’s always worth taking a peek and using a coupon when possible. 

5. Not taking advantage of manufacturer savings programs

Drug manufacturers typically offer copay cards for brand-name drugs. They are generally only available to patients who are insured but can help lower copays by as much as 100% per month. That means a $0 copay. 

Patient assistance programs are typically offered by manufacturers and non-profit organizations to help uninsured, low-income patients afford their medications. Patients generally must have a valid prescription and proof of income, but those who qualify can get their medication for free.

You can find more information on copay cards and patient assistance programs, as well as the most popular ones, here. 

The takeaway

Though it may be a little extra effort on your part, remember to do your research on your prescribed medications. There will almost always be a way to save more on your out-of-pocket costs. Avoiding wasting money at the pharmacy means you can use that extra cash still in your pocket for many other important things.