Do you know the single best way to save money on prescriptions? The solution is to never get sick or injured!
Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic; at some point in all of our lives, we’re going to need a prescription for something. However, there are ways to save money on prescriptions.
7 Ways to Save Money on Prescription Costs
1. Know your coverage
One of the easiest ways to save money on prescriptions is to know your insurance coverage. Whether your coverage is from work or private insurance, it’s important to know the answers to these questions:
- Do I need to pay for prescriptions upfront and then submit the receipt for reimbursement?
- Does the pharmacist direct bill the insurance company instead?
- How much is the deductible? (A deductible is where you need to pay a certain amount out of pocket and then the cost of the rest of your prescriptions for the year will be covered.)
- Is there a maximum dollar amount that can be claimed every year?
- Is there a lifetime maximum of coverage on my plan?
- At what age does coverage end for my adult children?
Knowing what your insurance plan covers will help you save money on prescriptions by making sure you have the right coverage for your family’s needs. If you don’t have any kind of insurance coverage, that’s something to look into.
Most provinces also have different programs available to help you save money on prescriptions. The Ontario Drug Benefit helps seniors over the age 65 pay for their medications, while Fair PharmaCare in British Columbia is a program that subsidizes prescription medication for families based on their income.
Be sure to visit your provincial governments’ website to see what coverage is available in your area.
2. Shop around
When you’re sick, you just want to get your medicine, get home and start feeling better. But for those medications that you take regularly, such as those to control your cholesterol or birth control, it’s a good idea to shop around and find the best price.
Most pharmacies will give you the price of the prescription you are looking for so you can compare to see who has the best value.
3. Save on the dispensing fee
Every time you get a prescription filled, you are charged a dispensing fee. A dispensing fee is what the pharmacists charge for their time, doing the following:
- Stocking medication
- Dispensing your drug products
- Talking about your treatment with you
- Maintaining and checking your medication records to avoid things such as drug interactions
- Providing drug information to your doctors
- Other specialty services such as diabetes clinics and blood pressure checks
Some provinces regulate the fee to a maximum amount, such as Saskatchewan where the maximum dispensing fee is $9.85. But for the most part, the fee will vary by retailer.
Here in Manitoba, retailers charge:
- Costco – $4.49
- London Drugs – $8.49-$9.49 (Most prescriptions have the $8.49 dispensing fee but prescriptions that are special order or require special storage will have an increased fee)
- Safeway – $9.60
- Walmart – $9.97
- Target – $9.99
- Superstore – $10
- Sobeys – $10.60
- Rexall – $11.99
- Shoppers Drug Mart – $12
*Please remember that dispensing fees will vary by region.
Think of the dispensing fee as similar to shipping fees when purchasing something online. You might find an item at a really great price, but it has an expensive shipping fee, so purchasing the item somewhere else that costs slightly more but the cost of shipping is less makes the more expensive item a better value.
So to save money on prescriptions, shop around for the best overall price, which is prescription cost + dispensing fee. Remember that the dispensing fee is per prescription, so even if you fill 5 prescriptions at the same time you will have to pay 5 dispensing fees.
4. Save on refills
Since you pay the dispensing fee every time you get a refill, you can save money on prescriptions by getting more than one refill each time. Prescription medications do have an expiry date with most pills lasting anywhere from 6 months to a year. However, it’s best to verify this with your pharmacist when it comes to your specific medication.
Instead of refilling your prescription every month, try getting three months worth at a time. So instead of paying 12 dispensing fees a year you’ll now only pay 4.
(Prescription cost is $7.23/month + $4.49 dispensing fee) x 12 refills = $140.64 a year
(3 months of prescription $21.96 + $4.49 dispensing fee) x 4 refills = $104.72 a year
Keep in mind that some insurance providers will only cover up to a maximum of 3 months worth of pills at a time. So if you have a receipt for 6 months worth of pills, the whole cost may not be covered. Be sure to check your insurance coverage ahead of time.
5. Go generic
Another way to save money on prescriptions is to get the generic version of your medications. In Manitoba, it’s the law that if your doctor does not specify that you must receive the name brand medication, the pharmacy will automatically substitute the generic version.
With most medications, the generic version of a drug will cost about half that of the name brand.
Prescription medication is not like groceries, where the name brand and generic versions can be quite different. The quality standards for brand name drugs and generic drugs are the same, and must meet federal guidelines. Generic drugs must contain the same amount of medicinal ingredients as the name brand drugs.
However, non-medicinal ingredients, like fillers and ingredients that colour the drug, may be different. Generic manufacturers must provide studies showing that the different non-medicinal ingredients have not changed the quality, safety or effectiveness of the generic drug. To prove that their products are safe and effective, generic drug manufacturers must also show that the generic drug performs similarly to the name brand drug.
6. Ask for samples
Did you know that you can ask your doctor for samples of your prescription. I know this might seem odd, but if you’re starting a new medication, many doctors will have samples available to give you. A really good example is birth control. If you want to start it as a new prescription, or want to switch brands, just ask your doctor if they have any samples available and they likely will.
There are only certain medications that doctors are able to give samples for, but it never hurts to ask.
7. Factor in savings programs
Many retailers help you save money on prescriptions based on the rewards programs they offer.
- At Sobeys you will earn 1 Club Sobeys Point for every dollar spent (which is the same as when you buy groceries), however you are unable to redeem Club Sobeys points on prescriptions.
- At Safeway you earn 7 times the Air Miles everyday on your prescription purchases. So for every $20 spent, you will receive 7 Air Miles versus the 1 Air Mile per $20 you receive when buying groceries.
- At Loblaws banner stores you can earn PC Points on your prescription purchases, however, you are only able to redeem points from grocery purchases.
- At Rexall you will earn 1 Aeroplan mile for every $1 spent on prescriptions if you live in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or North West Territories. You can redeem your Aeroplan Miles for a variety of gift cards and other rewards.
- At Shoppers Drug Mart, depending on your province, you will earn Optimum Points for your prescription purchases. Check with your local pharmacist to see if Optimum points are available in your area, since some changes have been made in regards to this. As with other rewards programs, you are unable to redeem your Optimum points on prescription purchases.
- Costco has the lowest dispensing fee, but many people do not take advantage of the savings because they do not have a membership. However, membership is not required for prescription purchases. Pharmacists are required by law to dispense medications to everyone, they cannot require a membership.
As you can see, there are many ways to save money on prescriptions. Make sure you know what your current coverage is and make sure it’s right for your family. This will ensure that you are getting the best value on the dollars you need to spend on prescriptions.