8 Surprising Ways to Cut Drug Costs

Find out how you can save money at the pharmacy from the experts at Consumer Reports.

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Many Americans, even those who have insurance coverage, spend more than they need to on prescription medications. Those who regularly take a prescription drug spent an average of $758 a year, according to our 2012 Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs annual prescription-drug poll.

Overall, people who currently take prescription drugs take an average of four medications, and 14% say they take seven or more. And to pay for all of those drugs, some cut back on other household expenses, spending less on entertainment and dining out, groceries, or clothing. Here’s how to keep more money in your pocket and still get effective and safe treatments for what ails you.

1. Don't automatically use your insurance. Really.
Hundreds of commonly used generic medications can be purchased for as little as $10 for a three-month supply at major chain drugstores, big-box stores, and club stores in the U.S. Although program details vary and some require an annual membership, our analysis shows that many people don’t take advantage of the programs. Here’s an example: You can pay $4 for a month’s worth of the generic antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac), 20 milligrams, at Sam’s Club, Target, or Walmart. But many people pay an average retail price of $31 without getting the discount. Insurance companies can pay even higher rates (see the chart below), which can increase future premiums.

Even drugs usually covered by your insurance might be less expensive if you pay cash instead. Our secret shoppers recently found a month’s supply of 20 milligrams of the generic version of the antidepressant Lexapro (escitalopram) for an average of $7 at Costco. That’s a savings of $3 a month if your generic-drug co-pay is $10.

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2. Shop the shelves
When you’re hunting for over-the-counter drugs, make sure you cast a wide net. People who design product displays for stores intentionally place products to boost sales and maximize profits. Knowing the tricks of the trade can help you zero in on the best deals. Here’s where to look:

End-of-aisle displays. Stores often use that space to feature items that are highly promoted, new, seasonal, or on sale. It’s where you might find discounted antihistamines during allergy season.

To the right of the name brands. Retailers might help you find a better deal by putting store brands in an easy-to-spot location. They can save you as much as 73 percent off the name-brand price, according to our secret shoppers.

On the lower shelves. The “bull’s-eye” location on the top shelves frequently contains best sellers, fast-moving products, and often higher prices. Look beneath that area for greater savings.

Under a clearance or sale sign. But buyer beware. Those signs could be enticing you to buy a name brand that might not actually be “on sale.” And even products on sale can be more expensive than a store-brand equivalent.

Next to a related item. You might find cold remedies next to the tissues, for example. So-called shopping-basket fillers can be good deals, but they also appeal to impulsive buyers and discourage comparison shopping. Don’t put the product in your basket unless you really need it and you know that the price is right.

On your phone. Consider using your smart phone while in the store to look up ingredients and product alternatives or to comparison shop.