A trip to the pharmacy can cause serious sticker shock. The cost of prescription drugs, on which the average American spends about $1,200 per year, is on the rise. The retail prices for at least 460 prescription drugs went up by an average of 5.2% in 2020, according to health care research organization 3 Axis Advisors.
To combat the increasing costs, a number of prescription discount services, like GoodRx, RxSaver and WellRx, have popped up in recent years, claiming to save customers up to 80% at the pharmacy. How much you can save with coupons from these services will vary depending on your health insurance, medication and preferred pharmacy.
Here are the benefits of prescription discount services, as well as some potential downsides you should be aware of.
The Benefits of Using a Prescription Discount Service
Coupons for prescription drugs
While the average cost of health insurance has gone up over the last decade, the policies may not always provide members with the lowest out-of-pocket price on their prescription drugs. A prescription discount service can provide you with free coupons for your prescriptions on its website or app.
Check a few different prescription discount services to compare coupons, and if you find one that will give you a better deal than what you’d pay through insurance, Medicare or Medicaid (more on that below), bring it to the drugstore and ask your pharmacist to apply it to your purchase.
Coupons from prescription discount services are usually reusable and don’t expire. However, coupons can change over time, and you may be able to get additional savings by checking for a new coupon before refilling your prescription.
Comparison shopping tools for savings
Prescription discount services offer comparison tools that can help you score the lowest price on your medication. First, they make it easy to compare the cost of brand-name drugs with their generic equivalents. Making the switch to a generic drug can save you between 80% and 85% on average, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Pharmacists in many states can switch your brand-name medication to a generic substitution without the need for a new prescription from your doctor, as long as the original order doesn’t say “dispense as written.”
The tools can also help you see if you’d save money by bumping up your 30-day prescription to a 90-day supply. Getting a larger supply may not only lower your out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy, but also allow you to make fewer trips to the drugstore, saving you transportation costs and time, as well. You will need to ask your doctor to write a new prescription if you wish to get a larger supply.
Prescription discount services can also help you compare the price of your medication at drugstores near you, as well as mail-order pharmacies. The cash price of the same medication can vary as much as 840% between pharmacies, according to a 2019 report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The savings you can get by switching pharmacies may offset the higher insurance premiums you may pay as you age.
Savings on medications for your pets
Coupons from prescription discount services can apply to your pet’s medications, as well. However, the medication must be one that works for humans as well, such as anti-anxiety pills. The discounts don’t apply to animal-only drugs, like flea and tick treatments. Your vet will need to provide your pharmacist with a “DEA number” in order to process the prescription and apply the coupon.
Watch Out for These Drawbacks
You can’t combine it with insurance
Anyone can use prescription discount services, regardless of whether they have health insurance. However, the service generally can’t be used in combination with your insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
If you want to get the best deal, you’ll need to compare the cost you’d pay with insurance, Medicare or Medicaid with what’s listed by the prescription discount service. Let your pharmacist know which method you’d prefer to use (insurance versus prescription discount service) and they can process the transaction accordingly.
Not accepted at all pharmacies
While prescription discount services are accepted at tens of thousands of retail pharmacies across the country, there’s no guarantee that your go-to drugstore will accept them. You should have no problem using the coupons you find online at major chain pharmacies, like CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Costco. The cash price of prescriptions can often be higher at large pharmacies than small, independent drugstores, though, and those local businesses may or may not accept prescription discount services.
Furthermore, prescription prices can vary based on the neighborhood in which the pharmacy is located. Pharmacies in low-income ZIP codes may charge more for medication. Call your favorite local pharmacy to see if it can offer a better price than what you’d pay at a retail chain using a prescription discount service.
Your payment might not count toward your insurance deductible
If you have a high deductible health plan, you need to spend a certain amount in out-of-pocket health care expenses before your insurance company starts to cover your medical expenses. For 2020, this type of insurance plan comes with deductibles that start at $1,400 for individuals or $2,800 for families. Your deductible may be even higher, depending on your insurance plan.
Unfortunately, your insurance may not count the costs of medications you buy using a prescription discount service toward your deductible. Some may consider the purchase to be an “out-of-network” expense, potentially disqualifying it from reimbursement or applying toward your deductible.
If you are trying to hit your deductible as soon as possible, you might not want to use a prescription discount service — even if it would save you money in the short term — since it may not count toward that amount. Call your insurance company to find out their policies and weigh your options.
Biggest discounts may require you to pay for a membership
Prescription discount services allow you to use many tools and coupons for free. But to get even better prices on medication, you may need to pay a monthly fee to join one of their membership programs. If the cost of your membership ends up being higher than the savings it offers on your medications, it may end up increasing your out-of-pocket costs.
Check with the prescription discount service to see if the savings their membership program offers on your specific medications will outweigh the costs of joining.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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