How far will you go to save on your meds? - (5/7/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacy phones were ringing off the hook – as usual. “White Cross Pharmacy,” the pharmacist answered. “How can I help you?” The woman on the other end said, “I need to know the cost of this prescription my doctor just gave me.” He told her it was $275. “Oh, Lord!” she exclaimed. “You mean my insurance will not cover it?” The pharmacist asked for her name so he could look up her insurance information in the computer. “I’ve never been there before. I am just looking for the lowest price.” 

The woman continued on to say, “I have 2 insurance plans. One is Medicare and the other is AARP. Can I give you the numbers? The first is 6-3-2-1…” “Wait,” the pharmacist said, “I need to create a profile for you. What’s your name and date of birth?” “All I want is a price,” she said. Meanwhile, another phone was ringing and one line was on hold. “It’s a doctor’s office,” the technician whispered to the pharmacist. “To give you a price, I need to put in all this information,” the increasingly exasperated pharmacist told the woman. “Oh, Lord. Will this take much time?” Long story, short: At the end of this ordeal, the pharmacist told her that the drug would be $21 with her insurance. “Really?” the woman said. “It’s only $16 at Pink Cross Pharmacy!” And with that, she hung up. Time wasted. New patient lost. 

Are the days of going to just one pharmacy now gone? Drugs can be very – and unfairly – expensive. And the consumer is acutely aware. One hears stories about people having to choose between food and their medication, or taking on a second job to pay for their drugs, or even rationing their pills or insulin to carry them through the month. There are ways to buck the system. GoodRx, for example, is an online service that will give you the price of a medication at pharmacies within your vicinity. Typically, you enter the name of the drug and its strength. Then, a list of nearby pharmacies pops up along with the prices of the drug. You print out the coupon of the location you select and bring it to the pharmacy. You have insurance you say? GoodRx might still be cheaper – in some cases, up to 95% cheaper. 

There are other ways to save on drugs. Ask the prescriber if a generic version of the medication exists. If not, ask if there are any comparable medications in that drug class. Some pharmaceutical companies offer programs to help patients who cannot afford their medications. If you qualify for one of these programs, you might get your medicine at little or no cost to you. Many of these pharmaceutical companies list these programs online so you can check the manufacturer’s website. Or ask a pharmacist. 

You could ask your prescriber if s/he would give you a 90-day supply of a drug (not a drug you have never had before, in case it does not work for you). But first, ask your pharmacist how much you would save by buying in bulk. Another tactic is to split a higher dose of the pill. Often, a drug will cost about the same no matter which strength it is. So, if you need 30 tablets of Drug X at 500 mg per dose, you could purchase only 15 tablets of Drug X at 1000 mg and then cut the tablet in half. Do your research first to see what strengths the drug comes in. This would not apply to capsules, gelcaps, or time-release pills. 

More and more people are "pharmacy hopping" to save money. What is wrong with going to different pharmacies? Drug interactions may be missed. If you get one drug at White Cross and another at Pink Cross, who is going to notice that one drug interacts with the other? However, you could ask any pharmacist to look that up for you. In fact, there is nothing wrong with calling a pharmacy to see how much they charge for a drug. Just expect your hold time to be a bit longer if the pharmacist is juggling calls. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at


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