Consumer Reports: How to get cheaper prescription medications

Americans spend more on drugs than people in any other country. The amount Americans spend out of pocket is projected to rise to $67 billion in 2025, from about $25 billion in 2000.

A March 2018 study found that for about 1 out of 5 prescriptions, insurers required people to pay more using their insurance than if they paid the pharmacy’s retail price.

One reason this happened: Gag clauses. The clauses prevented pharmacists from telling you there may be a lower price by not using your insurance. 

Now, two new bills banning drug gag clauses can help reduce the cost -- and all you have to do is ask.

“Gag clauses were something Consumer Reports surfaced years ago," said Lisa Gill, Consumer Reports Health Editor. "We worked with a lot of state legislators to help pass state by state laws to help curtail this practice. And then, this past October, two bills were passed in Congress tjat put an end to this practice once and for all on a national level, which is a terrific win for consumers."

Pharmacist William Stroud said the changes allow people in his profession to help consumers more.

“For example, last night, a lady came in for an antibiotic ointment. We filled it, ran it through her insurance, and it was $192," Stroud said." Put it through for the cash price and it was just $15. So, all that saving went into her own pocket.” 

The number one thing to do, ask: “Is this the lowest possible price on my medication?” 

There are some other ways to be money smart with meds. 

“Make sure you really need that medication," Gill said. "Two -- make sure you’re taking a generic. Generics are a good option for most people and will save you boatloads of money. Third -- (ask), 'Can I get a three-month or 90 day (supply)?' Then you'll save at least one copay, sometimes two."

Another way to put the power in your pocketbook: check out websites that offer coupons, like Needymeds.org. Go to that website, type in your drug and you’ll see all different types of coupons available, including the manufacturer coupon, Gill said.

If your insurance company doesn’t cover your drug very well or doesn’t cover it at all, it’s time to start shopping around. 

A manufacturer has different types of programs. Sometimes the program is for people who earn less than a certain amount of money, so it’s called a patient assistance program. For people who make more than that and have commercial insurance, they often offer discount coupons to help you fill prescriptions, usually for up to a year.  

Check goodrx.com or blinkhealth.com. Both will show you based on your ZIP code a comparison of the best discounts they can get from different pharmacies in your area.

"You may be surprised at the money you can save," Gill said.

Want more tips on how to save on your meds? Go to ConsumerReports.org.