This article is part of an ongoing series around practical ways you can save money on your prescription meds.
Many Americans struggle to afford their medications. According to a 2019 survey, 22.9% (58 million) adults in the United States weren’t able to pay for all of their medication over the previous year.
Prescription drugs do not need to be such a financial burden. There are many little-known, practical tips that can significantly lower the cost of your meds.
One way to save involves buying your meds in bulk by switching from standard 30-day refills to 90-day refills.
What is the difference between a 30-day and 90-day refill?
A 30-day refill is usually the default option. It is your typical pill bottle, filled with enough medication to last you one month. With this option, you’ll need a refill 12 times a year—once per month.
Instead of just one month, a 90-day refill is enough medication to last you three months. That means you’d only need a refill four times a year.
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.
Who should consider switching to 90-day refills?
90-day refills are most suitable for maintenance medications. These maintenance medications, taken consistently at the same dose, typically treat chronic conditions like mental health conditions (Wellbutrin XL, Zoloft, Lexapro), high cholesterol (Lipitor), high blood pressure (Crestor, Zestril), and acid reflux (Omeprazole).
A bulk supply is not recommended for temporary prescriptions like antibiotics or for new prescriptions since your doctor might want to adjust the dose. It is also not possible for controlled substances due to safety concerns.
What are the benefits of switching to 90-day refills?
There are three main benefits to switching to 90-day refills. This strategy allows you to get the same treatment in a way that is better for your wallet, your calendar, and the environment.
In an analysis of ten popular maintenance medications, we found that it is significantly cheaper to purchase 90-day refills instead of 30-day.
For example, let’s say you’ve been taking Lipitor, a medication commonly used to treat high cholesterol. You’ve been on this medication for a while, and you stay at the same strength of 40 mg per day. If you buy a 30-day refill of this medication, the average retail cost is $85.98 per month, resulting in a cost of $1,031.76 per year.
If you switch to buying 90-day refills, you would only pay $874.04 per year on average. By buying in bulk, you’re saving $157.72 per year! Since maintenance medications are often taken for many years, this can add up to a lot of savings over time.
In the following table, we’ve illustrated how much patients can save each year on common medications based on the average annual retail cost of buying 30-day refills vs. 90-day refills.
In addition to saving by switching to the 90-day refill strategy, you can save even more by buying from an online pharmacy like Honeybee Health, which sells generic medications directly to consumers at wholesale prices.
While there is a price drop between 30-day and 90-day refills at retail pharmacies, the most significant way to save is by switching to 90-day refills at Honeybee.
Buying bulk isn’t just cheaper—it’s more convenient as well. When you buy 30-day refills, you’ll need to refill each month. That’s 12 times a year.
With 90-day refills, you’ll need a refill every three months—that’s only four times a year. In other words, you won’t need to worry about refills as often.
Reducing refills has been shown to significantly improve how well patients stick to their prescribed treatment schedule, also known as treatment adherence. By reducing the number of refills you need to order, you are less likely to run out of your medication and miss prescribed doses.
Plus, you won’t have to worry as much about things like your prescription expiring or waiting in line at the pharmacy. That means you save both money and time with 90-day refills!
Pill bottles especially are of concern since they are made of plastic, which is known to negatively affect the environment. By reducing your number of refills per year, you’re also reducing the amount of waste created. Fewer refills equals fewer pill bottles, plus all of the other supplies that come along with a prescription (like printouts with side effect information, shopping bags, and so on).
Many maintenance medications are taken over a lifetime. An example from the table above is Synthroid (Levothyroxine), a generic medication that treats hypothyroidism. While this condition can be managed, it is often permanent, requiring a life-long use of medication.
Hypothyroidism is especially common for women between the ages of 35 to 65. For example, a 50-year-old woman gets diagnosed with hypothyroidism and her doctor prescribes the standard medical treatment Synthroid. Average life expectancy of a woman in the U.S. is 81. That’s 31 years that she will likely need to take this medication. If she does a 30-day supply, that’s 12 bottles a year, for 31 years. That’s a total of 372 plastic bottles.
By contrast, if she chose a 90-day supply, she’d only be using 4 bottles a year, for a lifetime total of 124 bottles. That is 67% fewer bottles, a significant reduction in the amount of plastic waste she contributes through her medication treatment.
Pharmacy and prescription medications are not a common place to think about the environment. Certain safety regulations make it difficult. For example, pharmacies can not reuse pill bottles (for good reason!) because of FDA concerns regarding contamination.
However, switching to a 90-day supply is one safe and easy way that you can have a measurable impact.
How do I switch to 90-day refills?
In order to use this savings trick, you may need to purchase your medication out-of-pocket (in other words, not through insurance) at an online pharmacy like Honeybee.
Often, you cannot go through insurance to get 90-day refills as many plans limit you to a 30-day supply. It is often not possible at big chain pharmacies as well, as they too may set quantity limits on prescription medications.
In order to buy a 90-day refill from Honeybee, you simply just need to tell your doctor to change your prescription to 90-day refills.
Wondering just how Honeybee is so much cheaper? You can read all about us on our website here.
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