By Erin Flynn Jay
Millions of Americans are struggling to afford their medications during COVID-19, including some with health insurance, the nearly 27 million who lost coverage due to a job loss and those who never had it. But there are quite a few ways to lower your prescription drug costs in the pandemic.
The sticker shock is real. In July, according to the GoodRx /zigman2/quotes/221104301/composite GDRX +9.55% site, 67 prescription drug prices rose an average of 3.1%; prices for 857 brand-name and generic drugs increased by an average of 6.8% from January 1 to June 30, 2020. Refills for common medications such as insulin for diabetes and Nexium for heartburn can cost around $300.
The coronavirus has only worsened the medication cost crisis for those with chronic diseases who are unemployed or facing financial hardships.
Here are seven ways to save money on medications in the pandemic:
1. Pay out-of-pocket (cash prices) instead of co-pays . The out-of-pocket price of medications is usually much lower than the average health insurance co-pay for them. You can save a lot of money (often up to 80%) by buying your medications directly from a pharmacy and skipping insurance altogether.
If you have prescription drug coverage and are unclear about the most affordable pricing, ask your local trusted pharmacist about the price for your medications without insurance vs. with insurance.
2. Switch to an online pharmacy. Retail pharmacies can mean getting stuck waiting in long lines and risking exposure to COVID-19. Online pharmacies are simpler or more convenient since they ship your medications straight to your door.
Online pharmacies can be especially helpful for those who have just lost their jobs, and consequently, their health coverage, as well as people who were left out of the pandemic relief.
Honeybee Health, for example, doesn’t accept insurance; its out-of-pocket prices are generally lower than the average co-pay. Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi, its lead pharmacist and co-CEO, co-founded the company to ensure that everyone has affordable access to generic medication — regardless of whether they have health insurance.
3. Switch to a 90-day supply . That can be helpful if you’re on maintenance medications, such as ones to treat chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, depression or Type 2 diabetes.
Instead of having to worry about getting a refill every month, it is much more affordable and convenient to buy a three-month supply at a time.
But you may have to do it through an online pharmacy that doesn’t require insurance, since insurers sometimes restrict the number of refills you can pick up at one time.
4. Use pharmacy savings cards and online programs. Pharmacy savings cards can offer significant discounts on drug prices at the pharmacy counter. Programs like the new Carecard let you search your prescription online to find the lowest prices at local pharmacies, whether you have insurance or not. You just show the pharmacist your card (or mobile app) to gain instant savings. A 10-second search could save you hundreds on your next drugstore visit.
SingleCare and GoodRx are two other prescription discount programs. Both sites promise savings of up to 80% off the cost of prescriptions.