Want to Spend Less on Prescription Medication? Here’s How

Don’t let high prices prevent you from staying healthy. We found eight strategies for spending less money at the pharmacy.

Person buying medication

Medications can play a critical role in keeping you healthy. But they can also cost a fortune. In the United States, the average person spends $1,126 per year on prescriptions, according to the Health System Tracker from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation. For some people, that number is much higher.

But there are ways to save. Discount programs, bulk buying rates, and low-cost mail-order pharmacies can all help make your medication — and your health — more affordable.

Here are eight tips everyone should know about.

Switch to a different form of the same drug

If you’re currently taking your medication in standard pill form, ask your pharmacist what other formulations are available. You may be able to switch to a capsule, cream, or ointment that costs less.

The savings will vary, but according to a 2022 study published in JAMA Health Forum, this change could save you as much as 40%.

Get generics when you can

For brand-name drugs, the average copay is $55.82, according to the Association for Accessible Medicines. But for generics, the average copay is just $6.61. And the two options are virtually identical, since they both offer the same active ingredients.

So if you’re currently taking a brand-name drug, ask your doctor or pharmacist about switching to a generic. “Hands down, this is usually one of the easiest ways to save money on prescription medications,” says Nicole Broadhurst, lead medical billing advocate at Tennessee Health Advocates LLC in Crossville, Tennessee.

Download a drug coupon

Discount programs such as Optum Perks allow you to print coupons, save them to your phone, or access them at checkout using a free discount card.

You can’t use these programs with your insurance. But in some cases, the coupon price may be better than your copay. Many discount programs offer savings of up to 80% off the retail price.

Broadhurst uses her dad as an example. Through his Medicare plan, his blood pressure medication would cost about $130 each month. But by using a discount card and paying cash, he’s able to get it for $30 instead.

Ask your insurer if it will cover a longer supply

If you buy medication in bulk, you can save money. You pay more up front, but it ends up costing less per day. So if you’re currently getting 30-day supplies, see if you can increase it to 90 days.

“Many insurance plans will allow this,” says Broadhurst. “Be sure to call yours and speak to an agent to find out more about your plan.”

See if you can split pills

Another way to buy in bulk: Order a double dose of your medicine and split the pills in half. So if you usually take 30 milligram pills, start buying 60 milligram pills instead.

But check with your pharmacist first. For some pills, splitting them can affect how the medication impacts your body. You can also double-check the drug insert that comes with your prescription. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the pill to be split, it will say so in the “How supplied” section.

You’ll also see a line across the pill that shows you where to split it. Split only one pill at a time, and use up both halves before splitting another pill.

Look at discount programs

Some drug companies offer patient assistance programs for low-income, high-need people. To find and apply for those programs, you can usually visit the drugmaker’s website.

In addition, there are state and federal discount programs that you may qualify for. These include:

Order online

Mail-order pharmacies often ship nationally, and because they have less overhead than brick-and-mortar pharmacies, they’re generally able to offer better prices. And yes, you can usually still get insurance coverage. Odds are good that your insurance provider works with mail-in pharmacies, says Broadhurst.

You can find mail-order pharmacies like OptumRx online, or you can sign up with stores like Costco.

Ask your doctor for ideas

Your doctor is a reliable resource for finding ways to save money on surgeries, tests, and medications. You just have to start the conversation.

If you find that a certain medication is too expensive, say so. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a less expensive alternative that does the same job.

To make this process go smoothly, ask your insurance company for a copy of your formulary, which is the list of medications it covers and the rate it charges for each. Bring the formulary to your appointment and your doctor will be able to quickly see which medications will cost the least.

And if you take multiple medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a full comprehensive medication review. About a quarter of all Americans take three prescription drugs, and about 13% take more than five, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You may not need some of them anymore. If you get the green light to stop taking a medication, you can count that as a 100% discount.


Money Saving Questions


Additional sources
Per capita cost of medication: Health System Tracker (2022). “How Do Prescription Drug Costs in the United States Compare to Other Countries?”
Saving money by switching formulations: JAMA Health Forum (2022). “Estimation of Potential Savings Associated with Switching Medication Formulation”
Generic vs. brand-name drugs: Association for Accessible Medicines (2021). “The U.S. Generic & Biosimilar Medicines Savings Report”
Prescription drug stats: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention