Blog Post

January 7, 2023

Ideas to Try When You Need to Find Affordable Prescription Medications

A quarter of all people have trouble affording their prescription medications in any given year. Sometimes, the difficulty comes from long-standing financial struggles or because the co-pays add up on large prescriptions for conditions like irritable bowel syndrome; in other cases, it's a struggle because prices just keep going up (doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.1012), or a doctor has prescribed expensive new medications that aren't covered by an insurance policy.

If you have trouble being able to afford your prescriptions, you don't need to right away consider taking less to make your medicines last longer, or doing without (kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kff-health-tracking-poll-february-2019-prescription-drugs/). There are a number of alternatives that could work for you.

Ask your doctor to prescribe the cheapest drugs possible

Doctors often directly go to the most effective medications they can think of, without considering how those might be out of reach for their patients. In truth, however, cheaper, less modern medicines can be nearly as effective. It's important to make a point of telling your doctor that you need the cheapest medicines they can think of.

Ask for a free sample

Drug companies send representatives around to every doctor to try to persuade them to write out prescriptions for their drugs; these representatives often give doctors free samples of their medications. You could ask your doctor if they have free samples to spare, that could tide you over.

Look for a generic version

When a new drug hits the market, the original company behind it is only allowed a certain number of years to market it exclusively. After their exclusivity runs out, other companies are allowed to make the same drug and market it on their own. These are generic versions of the drug, and tend to be available much more cheaply than the original. You could simply ask your doctor or your pharmacy for these generic alternatives.

Try a drug assistance program

Drug manufacturers don't advertise their assistance programs, but they do exist. To find the program for the manufacturer of each drug that you take, you could ask your doctor or pharmacist, (or go to needymeds.org to look up the contact information that you need). When you find the drug or patient assistance program that you need for the drug you use and send in your application form to prove that you have income limitations or are uninsured, you may be able to get your medications cheaper.

Sign up for a prescription discount card

Companies like GoodRx, Optum Perks, and RxSaver offer discounts as high as 50 percent on various medications (and even ones for pets) at pharmacies on their networks. These are a good choice for anyone who doesn't have insurance that pays for their medications. These discount cards are free, but you can get better discounts when you sign up for a premium plan that costs about $10 a month. In some cases, generic versions of the medications you need are handed out free of charge.

Buy from a cheap online pharmacy

Cheap internet pharmacies may be located in a different country, they may not employ licensed pharmacists or even ask you for a prescription. They may sell unsafe, poorly made drugs without the right ingredients (fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-buy-medicines-safely-online-pharmacy). However, if you do the research and locate a pharmacy that has good reviews, you may be able to get your prescription medications very cheaply.

Try medical tourism

Medicines are usually far cheaper in Mexico than they are in the US. Thousands of Americans and Canadians go over to Mexico for prescription shopping. However, it's important to keep in mind that there are rules for how much medicine you get to bring. The Customs and Border Protection agency generally allows no more than a supply worth 90 days or less for yourself (not for a family member or friend). In addition, you need to show a US doctor's prescription for those medications to the border agent; a prescription by a Mexican doctor isn't considered adequate. Opioid painkillers aren't allowed to be carried in.

You may also be able to qualify for Medicaid's strict income restrictions and come by free medications.

It's important to understand that you aren't alone in your struggle to be able to afford your prescriptions. There are many people out there in the same position, and there are effective ideas to try. It can make sense to try out each one of the ideas listed above.

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