1. Talk with your doctor about cost
Nearly half of the people in our January 2009 drug survey said that their doctors don't consider cost when prescribing medications. And earlier Consumer Reports surveys of doctors found that physicians ranked price as their least important consideration when prescribing drugs. (How well the drug worked was their first concern.) In fact, the doctors said they often don't know how much the drugs they prescribe cost. So you need to be assertive and tell your doctor that cost, as well as effectiveness, matters.
2. Eliminate unnecessary drugs
That saves money at the same time that it lowers your risk of side effects and drug interactions. Review all of your medications with your doctor or pharmacist at least every six months, eliminating duplicate or unnecessary drugs or adjusting dosages that are higher than necessary.
3. Ask for generics
They're much cheaper—and just as safe and effective—as their brand-name counterparts. For example, to treat allergies, you could take the brand-name drug Claritin for up to $37 a month, or its generic version, loratadine, for less than $12. Both drugs are available without a prescription.
If a generic isn't available, ask if your doctor can substitute a different, cheaper drug that works just as well. For example, instead of treating osteoarthritis with celecoxib (Celebrex) for nearly $300 a month, you may be able to get by with ibuprofen (Advil and generic) instead. The generic form of that drug costs just $21 a month and can be purchased without a prescription. Or instead of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, which typically costs about $100 a month, you may be able to use the related drug lovastatin for about $18 a month.
4. Ask your doctor if you can safely split your pills
You may be able to save money if your doctor can prescribe a pill that's twice your normal dose, so you could split it in half. To make the practice safe, only divide pills that are scored, use a pill-splitting device, and never split extended- or continued-release tablets. Divide one pill at a time and take the halves as consecutive doses so that you don't get too much or too little. But don't split pills without the permission of your doctor or pharmacist.
5. Shop around
In Consumer Reports' June 2008 report, Costco pharmacies offered the biggest savings overall. Web sites such as AARP.org, CVS.com, Drugstore.com, Familymeds.com, and Homemed.com also offer inexpensive choices, and DestinationRx can help you compare drugs and prices.
Many grocery stores and big-box stores, such as Costco and WalMart, now offer hundreds of generics for $4 or less—though independent pharmacy owners tell us that most mom-and-pop pharmacies will match those prices if you ask.
Be wary, however, of international Internet drug sites that are unregulated and may sell counterfeit or contaminated drugs. Stick with pharmacies that carry the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site) seal, which is awarded by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
6. Avoid free samples
They can end up costing you more in the long run because if you stick with the drug, which is usually an expensive, brand-name one, your doctor will eventually have to write a prescription for it. Plus, it may not be the best choice for your treatment.
7. Be wary of TV drug ads
They usually pitch the newest drugs, which are not only more expensive but also often work no better than older ones. And all too often, drug ads omit safety or side-effect information. See our Consumer Reports Health AdWatch series for examples of how some TV drug ads omit or minimize safety and side-effect information.
8. Get the right insurance
The right drug plan can save you big bucks. For advice on navigating the complex world of health insurance, whether you work for yourself or a large employer or if you're retired, see Health-care plans.
9. Get help
Pharmaceutical companies offer a certain amount of free or lows-cost medication through their patient assistance programs. Use the online directory RxAssist to see if there's one that can help you.
10. Check out our Best Buy Drug reports
We rate 21 of the most common drug classes, including those used to treat allergies, depression,heart attack, heart failure, heartburn, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The reports combine background materials about the disease, an expert review of the scientific evidence, and pricing information.