Even before COVID-19, 37 million Americans skipped filling their prescription because they could not afford it. Now, an additional 27 million Americans have lost their employer-provided health insurance due to the financial consequences of the novel coronavirus crisis.
To help, we’ve put together a list of concrete tips for saving on prescription medications during this difficult time.
#1: Switch from a retail pharmacy to an online pharmacy
If you are uninsured—or even if you have insurance, but the co-pays are high—you often have to pay for your medications out-of-pocket. This means that instead of paying a copay, you pay the pharmacy directly for the cash price of the prescription medication.
The traditional option is to pay out-of-pocket at a retail pharmacy. However, online pharmacies often have much lower prices and don’t require insurance. For instance, atorvastatin (Lipitor) is the most popular generic prescription cholesterol medication. The average cash price for 30 tablets is $79.52 at retail pharmacies. At Honeybee Health, the cash price for 30 tablets of Lipitor is $9. Overall, we’ve found that the out-of-pocket cost at retail pharmacies is around 5 times the out-of-pocket cost at an online pharmacy like Honeybee Health.
Switching to an online pharmacy also makes social distancing easier. Your meds are delivered straight to your door (often for free), saving you a trip to the pharmacy and the possible exposure to COVID-19.
#2: Buy a 90-day supply
It’s most common to receive a 30-day, one month’s supply, of your medications. However, buying a 90-day, three month’s supply, of your prescription medications can be significantly cheaper. Essentially, purchasing 90-day refills means you’re buying your meds “in bulk”—similar to how you save by buying toilet paper at Costco instead of at your local grocery store.
Let’s take atorvastatin (Lipitor) as an example again. If you buy a 30-day refill of this medication, the average retail cost is $79.52 per month, resulting in a cost of $954.24 per year.
If you switch to buying 90-day refills, you would only pay $819.28 per year on average. By buying in bulk, you’re saving $134.96 per year.
This tip works best for maintenance medications, which are drugs you consistently take at the same dose, typically to treat chronic conditions like mental health conditions (Wellbutrin XL, Zoloft, Lexapro), high cholesterol (Lipitor), high blood pressure (Crestor, Zestril), and acid reflux (Omeprazole).
Insurance companies often don’t cover 90-day refills, so you’ll most likely have to pay out-of-pocket to use this tip. That’s why we suggest combining it with our first tip to switch to an online pharmacy, since the out-of-pocket prices there are often much cheaper than insurance copays anyway.
#3: Switch from brand name medications to generics
Generic drugs have the same active ingredients, the same dose, and the same number of pills as the brand-name version. Generic drugs manufacturers have to follow the same safety regulations and get the same approval from the FDA. The difference is often in the price, with a “brand tax” being added simply for the well-known brand name.
In other words, by switching to generic drugs you can cut down your costs without sacrificing quality. For instance, for the brand-name drug Lipitor, the average cost is $521.21. Meanwhile the generic version, atorvastatin, costs on average $79.52.
One extra tip: we also put together a guide to 18 free or discounted telemedicine services during COVID-19 that you can read here. These services allow you to access a doctor virtually for a wide variety of health concerns, all without health insurance.