Image: Pills © Corbis

These days, getting sick can be a costly business, especially if you can't afford medical insurance. Not only do you have to worry about paying the consultation bill from the doctor, but the cost of prescriptions also seems to skyrocket each time you need to have them filled.

The good news is that there are many ways to save money on your prescriptions. While they may require some effort on your part, the savings will be well worth it.

The following are 10 tips to save money on prescription drugs:

1. Always inquire about generic options. Many brand-name medications have generic substitutes, which are required by law to contain exactly the same ingredients as the brand-name versions. Whenever you receive a prescription from your doctor for medication, make sure to ask about available generic alternatives. You could end up saving as much as 80% on the cost of your prescription.

2. Find out if you qualify for Patient Assistance Programs. Certain pharmaceutical companies have put PAPs in place for those who earn below a certain wage or who simply can't afford medical insurance. PAPs may include assistance in the form of savings cards, assistance with co-payments or levies, and coupons that can be redeemed against the price of certain medications.

3. Fill all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy. By having all of your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy, you will save both time and gas money. Moreover, having a pharmacist who knows all of your prescriptions is helpful if you develop allergies to or unpleasant side effects from any of your medications.

4. Consider the possibility of splitting higher-dose pills. There is often very little difference in price when it comes to different dosages of pills. Many times, a 50mg pill will cost almost the same price as the same medication in a 25mg dosage. Find out from your pharmacist if the medication you are using comes in different dosage sizes and if it is safe to split the larger-dose pills. It is important to note that some pills are not safe to split, but your pharmacist will be able to give you reliable advice about which ones can be.

5. Communicate with your doctor. Speak up if you can't afford any of the medications your doctor has prescribed. He or she often will be able to prescribe alternative medications which may be more affordable for you.

6. Help reduce co-payments by checking your formulary. Many medical insurance companies will cover the cost of only specific medications for some conditions, as stipulated in their formulary. If your doctor prescribes medication that is not listed on this formulary, you may have higher co-payments. Check your prescription against the formulary, and if it's not listed, ask your doctor to prescribe an alternative medication that is on the list.

7. Shop around and ask for a discount. These days, it is possible to purchase medication from supermarkets, via mail order and at a variety of retail pharmacies. By shopping around, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that prices differ from one source to another. If you find that a particular source has all but one of your prescription medications at a cheaper price, ask if it's possible to get a discount on the more expensive item.

8. Ask your doctor for samples. Thousands of people have allergic reactions to medications every year. Before paying for a full course of a particular medicine, ask your doctor if he or she has any free samples. This will allow you to try it before buying a full month's supply. Find out if your doctor is able to give you a seven- to 10-day supply of the drug so that you can assess it thoroughly.

9. Search for coupons. Magazines, newspapers and certain websites offer prescription-related coupons on various medicines and treatments. Two websites that are known for offering medicine coupons are InternetDrugCoupons.com and NeedyMeds. You also can ask the staff members at your doctor's office if they know of any available coupons for your particular prescription drugs. Certain manufacturers even offer free, 30-day trial packs of their medicines.

10. Maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which are linked to obesity, require a lifelong commitment to prescription medications to manage them. By keeping fit and healthy, you may be able to minimize your risk of getting sick and requiring medication.

Likewise, it is also important to consult with a doctor or other health-care professional as soon as you realize that there is something wrong. That step could save you time and effort, in addition to money not spent on prescription medications.

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