8 ways to save on prescription drugs

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Brian ActonContributing WriterBrian Acton is a contributing writer at Policygenius, where he covers insurance and finance. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, TIME, USA Today, MarketWatch, Inc. Magazine, and HuffPost. 

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With health insurance coverage, prescription copays and out of pocket costs fluctuate based on the type of drug and the plan itself. Without coverage, you’re 100% responsible for the full cost of your prescriptions, which can get expensive.

With the cost of prescriptions on the rise, it is more important than ever to lower your drug expenses. Here are eight ways to save on prescription drugs.

1. Use an FSA or HSA

Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) are savings plans that let you put aside funds tax-free for eligible medical expenses, including prescription drugs. Any legitimate prescription purchase you make with a FSA or HSA will not be subject to taxation.

FSAs are offered by employers, while anyone with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) can open a HSA. If you’re eligible, you should open a plan ASAP to avoid taxes on your prescription purchases. Here's a guide on how to set up an HSA.

2. Choose the right insurance plan

Every health insurance plan provides some level of prescription drug coverage. But not all drugs are treated the same - your plan may not cover some drugs at all, while others might have different copays and out of pocket costs. You should check your plan’s formulary for the list of covered drugs and the level of coverage.

If your current plan falls short, you may want to switch plans the next time open enrollment comes around. Of course, this is a complex decision that involves monthly premiums and other types of health coverage - so do your research. Check this state-by-state guide to open enrollment to find out what's happening where you live.

3. Buy generic

Generic prescriptions are essentially the “off-brand” version of a prescription drug. But the FDA requires generic drugs to be as safe and effective as the original, and they are usually a fraction of the cost because the manufacturer did not have to incur the research and development costs of creating the drug.

Generic drugs can only be sold once the original drug’s exclusivity has expired. If your prescription is relatively new to the market, there may not be a generic version available yet.

4. Get a discount prescription card

Prescription discount cards are offered by private companies that negotiate lower prescription drug prices with their network of partners, so you can show your prescription discount card at the pharmacy to access lower prices. Some prescription discount cards are free, while others charge membership fees.

When filling a prescription, discount cards can’t be used in combination with your insurance. If you have prescription coverage, you should check whether it’s cheaper to use your health plan with a copay or use your discount prescription card. If your insurance doesn’t cover a specific medication, it’s a no-brainer to use your discount card.

5. Use your state’s assistance program

Several states offer State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs (SPAPs) that help residents pay for prescription drugs. Programs work differently between states; some states offer SPAPs in combination with a resident’s existing Medicare prescription program (Part D), while others offer free assistance to all residents. Check if your state offers an SPAP.

6. Sign up for your pharmacy’s membership program

Many pharmacies like CVS and Walgreen’s offer membership programs that provide discounts on name brand and generic drugs and earn rewards every time you fill a prescription. While some pharmacies charge annual membership fees, others are free. Check with your local pharmacies to see if they offer membership programs and learn about the benefits.

While we're at it, here are some ways to save at CVS.

7. Compare prices

When it comes to prescription drugs, it pays to shop around. You can’t assume that your favorite local pharmacy is giving you the best price. There are sites that let you compare drug prices online to find the cheapest prescriptions in your area. Some offer printable coupons, while others offer their service in conjunction with a prescription discount card.

Blink Health, for example, lets you search for discounted prescriptions online and then pick them up at your local pharmacy. And because we like making things easy, you can get $20 off your first fill just for being a Policygenius reader. Search for your prescription and get the deal here.

8. Use mail order to save

Some health insurance plans offer a lower copay when you buy several months’ worth of prescriptions at once through mail order. This is a good option for those who use ongoing medications for health maintenance, or expect to be taking the same prescription for a longer time frame.

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