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11 ways to slash prescription costs

Having trouble paying for your pills? These tips can help.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 24, 2012 12:22PM
Image: Pills (© ImageShop/Corbis)If you don't have health insurance, the price of prescription drugs can be a real budget-buster.

But it doesn't have to be.

There are ways around paying full price for a one-time antibiotic or a long-term medication. Depending on your income level, you might not have to pay at all. (Post continues after video.)

I've compiled a list of 11 tactics for reducing drug costs. One or more may help you keep medical costs in check.

A better price upfront

1. Ask for generics.
Wal-Mart first offered $4 prescriptions back in 2006, and other stores have followed suit. Ask your doctor if any of the meds you take have effective generic equivalents, then see if they're on the reduced-price generic lists. A site called MedTipster has a pharmacy search engine for discounted generic medications.

2. Request a price match.
When I wanted to switch my $10-a-month thyroid meds to a $10-for-three-months plan at a different drugstore, the pharmacist offered to give me that price, just to keep my business. See if your current provider will match another pharmacy's rate. It can't hurt to ask.

3. There's an app for that.
Sites like LowestMed and GoodRX will help you compare prescription costs in your area.

Coupons for drugs?

Split pills. Taking 10 milligrams of a medication? You might be able to buy 20-mg pills for about the same price, then cut them in half. Talk with your doctor about this, since not every drug can be safely divided.

5. Use coupons. Check magazines in the doctor's waiting room for discounts on prescriptions or free 30-day trials. Or visit websites like and  


6. Switch drugstores. Some pharmacies offer free gift cards if you transfer an existing prescription or bring in a new one. This is worth it only if the drug price is comparable to what you're already paying.

7. Get a discount card.
The Together RX Access program provides savings of 25% to 50% for the uninsured.

Point-and-click pills

8. Order online. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website, it is illegal to ship drugs into the United States not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The law requires that medications "have their formulation approved by FDA, be made in a plant registered with FDA and be produced under quality standards enforced by FDA."

Otherwise, you might not get what you paid for. According to the Mayo Clinic website, some Internet orders have "turned out to contain no active ingredient or to contain the wrong medicine."

Thus you should order only from online pharmacies in the United States. While there are excellent online pharmacies based in Canada, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy notes that some shady northern outfits source their drugs from countries where standards are lax and counterfeit pills more common.

To find out if an online pharmacy is approved, check its name through A site called will find you the best price among NABP-approved online pharmacies.

Can't afford your pills?

9. Get free drugs.
Retailers such as Publix and Meijer offer some prescription drugs -- including prenatal vitamins, ACE inhibitors, Metformin and certain antibiotics -- completely free.

10. Ask for samples.
If money is tight, say so. Your physician might have 10 days' worth of antibiotic samples on hand. Even a month's supply of a maintenance medication eases the financial burden.

11. Apply for free meds.
Pharmaceutical companies make medications available to low-income Americans. The nonprofit Partnership for Prescription Assistance can help you find sources to get medicine cheaply or even free if you qualify. NeedyMeds provides info on how to find low- or no-cost medications and health care.

More on MSN Money:

Apr 24, 2012 4:40PM

Helpful, but the part about the FDA and drug importation leaves a lot left unsaid. The FDA does not prosecute individuals who personally import medication for their own use in accordance with FDA's own policies on enforcement discretion. It's the online pharmacies outside the United States that offer the lowest prices on prescription medication but how do you tell which ones are trustworthy?

A recent Op-ed in the New York Times called "The Wrong Way to Stop Fake Drugs" goes a long way to answer this question. Its author led a study that tested websites that sell medication, foreign, and domestic and found that credentialed sites (those approved by NABP, PharmacyChecker, LegitScript or CIPA) sold authentic medication and required a prescription.
Others did not. It also found that the credentialed foreign sites sold the same products sold in US pharmacies but at a much lower price.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, 48 million Americans did not fill a script in 2010 due to cost. Let's make sure to get our facts straight and give Americans all the options available to them for affording their medications.

Gabriel Levitt
Apr 25, 2012 2:09PM
As Gabriel Levitt's comment indicates, the FDA does not prosecute those who import medicine for their personal use. Over a million Americans per year depend on legitimate international online pharmacies to get their needed medicines at an affordable price. In this difficult economic climate, policy-makers need to recognize this fact and help educate consumers about how to identify safe international pharmacies

There are licensed, legitimate Canadian and other international online pharmacies that sell safe prescription drugs. These pharmacies follow stringent standards to ensure patient safety, including requiring a valid doctor’s prescription, obtaining demographic and medical information from the patient, having a licensed pharmacist on staff and having a physician review patient information before authorizing a prescription.

In addition, verified international pharmacies sell the same brand-name maintenance medications that are sold in the U.S., but at much more affordable cost - often at a savings of 50 percent or more.

Everyone should have the right to safe and affordable medications, and the right to choose where to purchase them.

RxRights is a national coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting and protecting American consumer access to sources of safe, affordable prescription drugs. For more information, visit

Mar 4, 2013 1:43PM
If you guys want a more cost-effective discount prescription card for free then we'd love to help. The BACH RX Card is saving Americans millions this year on RX's. Try it. go to and see.
May 28, 2014 9:50AM
Make sure the medicines you are taking are needed and appropriate. Use generic drugs when possible. Use “preferred” brand name medicines if you have health insurance. Consider using a mail-order pharmacy. Use antibiotics only if needed. Splitting tablets in half may save money on some medicines. Ask about combination pills. Talk to your doctor. The Internet can be a useful tool, when used properly. Be cautious about advertised drugs and samples. Be cautious about buying medicines from multiple pharmacies. Talk to a consultant pharmacist.
Apr 27, 2012 10:04PM
There are fewer and fewer prescription samples available these days because many clinics, including almost all the large ones, consider it a violation of professional ethics for a doctor to accept pharmaceutical samples. It's not about having them to give away, but about encouraging prescribing one manufacturer's product over another's. Where I work, a doctor who accepted free samples of anything would be fired.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.