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Here’s What the Average American Spends on Prescription Drugs

By Maurie Backman - Mar 25, 2019 at 6:04AM

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And how to spend less.

Healthcare is a massive expense for working adults and retirees alike, and a big part of that stems from the increasingly high cost of prescription medication. In fact, the average American spends approximately $1,200 a year on prescription drugs, according to health services company SingleCare. If your medication costs are busting your budget, it pays to be proactive in bringing them down. Here are a few ways to go about that.

1. Choose generics over brand-name drugs

Though there isn't a generic version of every medication out there, many common prescription drugs have a less expensive counterpart available. And in some cases, asking for them could save you a small fortune. An estimated 90% of generic drug copays cost less than $20, compared to just 39% of brand-name copays. That's a huge difference. And while some medical professionals automatically prescribe generics when available, not all do. If your doctor insists on a brand-name medication, be sure to ask why and push back.

Medication bottle open and on its side with white pills spilled out


2. Order medications in bulk

If there's a medication you take on an ongoing basis, ordering in bulk could save you a bundle of money. In fact, in some cases, you might pay less for a 90-day supply of a certain drug than you will for a 30-day supply that's renewed month after month. Not only might ordering in bulk save you money, but it'll also save you time. Talk about a win-win.

3. Ask for free samples

Medical offices are constantly hounded by pharmaceutical sales reps looking to push their new products. It's not unusual for doctors to have samples of otherwise expensive medications on hand. The next time you're prescribed a costlier drug, ask if a sample is available. You might save yourself a small but meaningful chunk of cash by getting a week's worth of medication your physician already has on hand.

4. Apply for assistance

Many pharmaceutical companies have patient assistance programs in place to help folks without insurance, or with low income, afford their medications. If you have an expensive prescription on your hands, it pays to see what help you're entitled to, especially if it's a medication you'll need to take on an ongoing basis.

5. Don't be too quick to toss expired medication

We're told that expired food can really harm us -- but what about expired drugs? It's often the case that expired medication is perfectly safe to take, albeit perhaps less potent than it was before its expiration date. Therefore, if you're sitting on pills that might help with a new ailment, ask your doctor whether they're safe and effective to consume before rushing to fill a new prescription. This especially holds true if the medication in question is only recently expired.

6. Get a different Medicare drug plan

If you're on Medicare, switching to a different drug plan might make your prescriptions more affordable. Each Part D drug plan has its own formulary that dictates the extent to which different medications will be covered. Therefore, it could be the case that your plan offers limited to no coverage for the drugs you need, whereas another plan might pick up more of that tab. That said, you'll have to weigh the premium costs for each plan you consider against your drug coverage under it.

There's no question about it: Prescription drugs are a huge burden for Americans across all income levels. If you're tired of paying a fortune for your medications, be proactive about reducing your costs. At the same time, take good care of your health in general, as doing so might prevent you from needing even more expensive drugs in the future.

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