The cost of health care is rising, and with it the cost of prescriptions and over-the-counter pharmacy items. At the same time, there have been major changes in most major insurance medical and prescription coverage plans, including Medicare, and in the availability of generic medications. The rules covering Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) have also been changing.
In the midst of this, pharmaceutical companies are stepping up the competition for your business, and your loyalty to their brand name medications. Coupons, rebates, and co-payment coverage are all available from most major manufacturers. Grocery store pharmacies are also competing for your business, with FSA promotions, coupon offers, and discount generic medications.
There are several ways to save significantly on prescription and over-the-counter pharmacy products:
It may be obvious, but no matter what coupons, offers, or other promotions available to your, the bottom line to saving money on prescriptions is to compare prices at different stores. Why? First, for name brand prescriptions, the drug companies do invest in developing the drug, and need to recover the costs from selling the drug. So while the medication itself may not cost much to manufacturer, a portion of the cost of research and development are passed on to the consumer. When a drug goes generic, other companies produce the drug without the R&D costs, and the price can be fairly low. But…store pharmacies have their own costs to recover. Grocery stores typically have small pharmacies, with few customers, yet must recover the same costs of employing pharmacists, technicians, keeping fresh medications on shelves, and so on, as the large pharmacies and warehouses. A grocery store may fill 10 prescriptions a day while a warehouse pharmacy fills 1000, yet the overhead costs of staff and keeping shelves stocked are comparable. The grocery store 'tacks on' a mark up to the prescription price to cover their costs, and in this example it would add 100 times more to the cost of a prescription than at the warehouse.
While most grocery stores have given in to the competition for low price generics (see our list of stores that offer $4 generic medications HERE), the mark-ups lost on generic medications simply get added on to the name brand medications. A 30 day supply of Lamictal, an epilepsy drug, is typically priced at $100 at Costco, and $500 at Giant. Do a bit of research, and you might be surprised.
Tip: While Costco itself is a membership warehouse, the Costco Pharmacy is not. You do not need to be a Costco member to purchase your medications at Costco.
Prescription Coupons, Rebates, and Co-payment Reduction Savings Programs
Manufacturers regularly offer printable coupons for dollar-off discounts, free trials, and co-payment reductions on many brand-name medications. There are also money-back mail-in rebates and savings. While these offers were previously limited to introducing consumers to new medications, economic changes have led companies to provide additional and regular savings on many medications.
You can find current offers, listed by medication, on our Rx prescription coupon page.
You may also find these offers in magazines, at the pharmacy counter, and at your doctor’s office.
Insurance information is typically not required to fill a sample or trial offer prescription. A doctor’s written prescription is required, however, to be submitted with the coupon or voucher.
Once you redeem a trial or other prescription coupon, the manufacturer will generally provide another coupon or rebate voucher by mail. Each time you redeem one, another is provided. With many competing prescription products on the markets, brand loyalty can (and should) be well rewarded.
Even if you are already taking a particular medication, manufacturer offers may be available. Regular “card holder” discounts, manufacturer coupons (also referred to as pharmacy checks), and rebates are increasingly common for brand name prescriptions when a generic alternative is not available but similar, competing, medications are.
Several manufacturers also have “Rewards Programs”, allowing you to submit your receipts for rebates and free gifts. $40 – $200 a year in cash back, as well as free samples and gifts, can add up quickly to reduce or offset prescription costs.
Tips for using these offers:
- As with most coupons, before you print, make sure your printer is turned on and has adequate ink and paper before printing your offer. Allow for pop-ups from the manufacturer’s page. Check that the offer has printed correctly before closing the page. Do not make copies of the printed coupon, as each print is usually coded with a unique number that can only be used once.
- Present prescription coupons to the pharmacist BEFORE you fill your prescription. While most pharmacists are familiar with prescription coupons, they may not be aware of a particular offer, or the requirements for redeeming a particular offer. Allow time in your schedule for the pharmacist to review the coupon or voucher, check for special requirements, and confirm that he or she is able to process it. If the pharmacy cannot process your offer, don’t be shy about taking the coupon, and your business, to another store.
- Read the terms of each offer carefully. Some coupons can only be used towards co-pays, while others can be used to reduce all out-of-pocket expenses. The coupon or rebate can never exceed your out-of-pocket expenses, so do not expect cash-back, no matter the coupon value.
- Read rebate forms carefully, complete the information and submit all required materials, including receipts, together as instructed on the rebate.
Store coupons and gift card offers
Most grocery store pharmacies are now offering enticements to keep and bring in new business. Alert shoppers can clip coupons from weekly store sales circulars offering store gift cards of $10 – $50 when you fill a new or transferred prescription. Simply present the coupon before filling a new or transferred prescription; the clerk or pharmacist will tell you exactly how to redeem their stores offer (usually honored when you pick up the filled prescription).
Most stores also accept “competitor’s coupons” for prescription offers. For example, if you have a coupon to receive a $25 gift card at Rite Aid when you transfer a prescription to a Rite Aid pharmacy, you can present that coupon at your local grocery store pharmacy prior to filling your prescription at your grocery store. If your store accepts competitor coupons, they will give you either a gift card, credit, or cash back equivalent to the coupon offer at the other store once you have filled your prescription.
Since these are store coupons, customers are allowed to “profit” from them, receiving the full value of the gift card offered, whether or not the out-of-pocket cost of the medication exceeded the value of the gift card. For example, you can fill a $4 generic prescription, or a free antibiotic prescription, at a participating grocery store and receive back the $25 gift card offered. There may be restrictions on the coupon, or the number of offers you may receive, so read the terms carefully and check with your pharmacist.
$4/30 day and $10/90 day Generics
Grocery store pharmacies have been known for having high prices on generic medications. These pharmacies are typically small, and their overhead costs can be high for stocking a large variety of medications and staffing the store with pharmacists and technicians. Now, however, these same pharmacies find themselves competing for consumers in an increasingly aggressive market. After Walmart and Target introduced bargain prices on generic prescriptions, most grocery store pharmacies followed suit.
Most grocery stores now offer discount generic prescription pricing, typically $4 for a 30 day supply, and $10 for a 90 day supply. Eligible generic medications vary between stores, but most grocery stores list between 300 and 500 qualifying prescription drugs. A list of grocery stores which offer $4/30 and $10/90 generic prescriptions is provided here.
Flexible Spending Accounts
A Healthcare Flexible Spending Account, or FSA, is a reimbursement account available through many employers. It allows you to set aside money from your paycheck for health care costs each year before taxes are taken out. The money is then used to reimburse healthcare expenses not paid for by your health insurance plan during that calendar year. At the end of the year, any unspent funds remaining in your FSA are lost, so careful planning and attention are required to ensure that your funds are fully put to good use before they expire.
Healthcare FSA funds can be used for prescription co-payments and many over-the-counter (OTC) medications and products. Your employer can provide you with a list of the specific items covered by your employers plan; the following OTC items are usually included:
- Allergy Prevention and Treatment
- Antacids and Acid Reducers
- Antidiarrheal and Laxatives
- Anti-itch Lotions and Creams
- Asthma Medicines
- Blood Pressure Monitor
- Bug Bite Medication
- Carpal Tunnel Support
- Cold and Flu Remedies
- Cold Sore/Fever Blister
- Contact Lens Solution
- Contraceptive Products
- Cough Suppressants or Expectorants
- Denture Adhesives
- Diabetic Supplies
- Diaper Rash
- Diuretics and Water Pills
- Ear Care
- Eye Care
- Eye Drops
- First Aid Supplies
- Head Lice Treatment
- Hearing Aid Batteries
- Hemorrhoidal Preparations
- Lactose Intolerance
- Migraine Relief
- Motion Sickness
- Muscle/Joint Pain
- Nausea/Vomiting Remedies
- Ophthalmic Preparations
- Pain Relievers/Fever Reducers
- Personal Test Kits
- Pinworm Treatment
- Poison Treatment
- Pregnancy Tests
- Prenatal Vitamins (Medically Necessary)
- Reading Glasses
- Respiratory Stimulant Ammonia
- Sinus Products
- Sleeping Aids (to Treat Insomnia)
- Smoking Cessation
- Teething/Toothaches/Mouth Pain
- Throat Pain Medications
- Topical Steroids
- Wart Removal
- Weight Loss Products (Medically Necessary)
- Wound Care (e.g., Gauze)
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