While baffling pricing on medications from insulin to asthma inhalers can make it tough to get a grip on costs, these five tips from the experts at Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs can help you regain some control of what you pay.

Tell Your Doctor You're Concerned About Costs

A recent Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs survey found that despite the clear toll of rising drug prices, only 6 percent of people found out about the cost of their new medication during a doctor’s visit. Big mistake.

Speaking up when the pre­scription is being written gives you the opportunity to let your doctor know that, in addition to safety and effectiveness, costs matter to you.

Discuss switching to generics, which can cost as much as 90 percent less than brand names, or ask about a cheaper “therapeutic substitution," which is a different drug that works just as well. Ask about even cutting out drugs you no longer need, and about non-drug options to help your condition, too, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, exercise, or improving your diet.

Ask for a 90-day prescription rather than a 30-day one. Doing so could mean you pay one co-pay instead of three. 

Choose Your Insurance Plan Wisely

Pick a health plan that covers the medications you need at a cost you can afford. Compare plans during your open enrollment period because coverage is likely to change from year to year.

Keep in mind that high-deductible plans have lower premiums but require you to pay a larger chunk of your drug costs.

If your insurance drops or reduces coverage of a drug during the year, your doctor can help by appealing to your insurance company for an exception to cover the drug anyway. The administrative process for filing the exception is different with each insurance company and can take a few weeks before a decision is made. 

Consider Not Using Insurance, Then Shop Around

Many chain and big-box pharmacies including Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart offer hundreds of generic drugs for just a few dollars for a one-month supply for "cash-paying" customers. To get the deals, make it a habit to ask the pharmacist whether you'll pay less by bypassing your insurance.

And before paying, call around to check prices at more than one pharmacy. Prices on medications can vary drastically from one pharmacy to the next, even within the same ZIP code.

Case in point: Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers last year found that a month’s worth of generic Cymbalta in Raleigh, N.C., ranged from $249 at a Walgreens to $43 at Costco. 

Look for Discount Coupons Online

If you pay out of pocket, look up prices and discounts at pharmacies near you ahead of time, by using price-comparison websites GoodRx.com, BlinkHealth.com or LowestMed.com.

You can also try filling your prescription with a low-cost online pharmacy based in the U.S., such as HealthWarehouse.com.

Be careful of fraudulent websites: Use only an online retailer that operates within the U.S. and displays the VIPPS symbol to show that it’s a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site. Once you’ve verified that a retailer is legit, read its terms carefully. 

Ask Your Pharmacist for an Even Better Deal

If you get to the pharmacy counter and find that your medication costs more than expected, don’t simply pay and walk away. A good pharmacist will do some digging to help you find the best deal.

Our secret shoppers have found that asking “Is this your lowest possible price?” yielded deeper savings—discount programs, cards, and coupons. 

If you use an independent pharmacy, ask whether it will match or beat competitor prices.

Editor's Note: These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).