What would you do if you needed a specific drug to save your life in the event of an emergency — but you couldn’t afford it?
The internet erupted in outrage last week when EpiPen manufacturer Mylan announced it was dramatically raising prices. An EpiPen two-pack, used as a life-saving stopgap when an allergy sufferer goes into anaphylactic shock, now has a list price of more than $600.
Mylan’s been Monday-morning quarterbacking ever since, first announcing a savings program that would reduce the price of filling a prescription, then announcing it would manufacture a generic version of the injection device.
But many concerned allergy sufferers aren’t waiting for Mylan to make good on its generic promise. If you carry an auto-injector in case of a dangerous allergic reaction, you might be scrambling for a way — any way — to figure out how to afford your prescription.
Here are some proven ways to save money on your EpiPen — as well as the ones you’ll want to skip, no matter how budget-friendly they seem.
Smart Ways to Save Money on EpiPens
If you have the time and patience for a little research, you may be able to snag a decent deal on your prescription cost.
Editorial intern Kelly Smith phoned our local pharmacies to get an idea of what competing chains in our area charge.
“I’m scared to check,” admitted the person who picked up at CVS Pharmacy. But they did, and quoted us $734.99 for an EpiPen two-pack. They didn’t have any alternative options available.
Walmart quoted an EpiPen two-pack price of $683, and mentioned they accept discount cards (more on those in a moment). They didn’t have a generic option available.
Publix gave us a whopper price of $761.95 for an EpiPen two-pack, and told us to search online for “My EpiPen Savings Card” to take $300 off the price (see below). The pharmacy also offered competing auto-injector Adrenaclick for $516, although the savings from the EpiPen Savings Card would be a better deal.
Ask Your Doctor
Doing your smart-shopping research is helpful, but don’t forget your doctor is on your side, too. Ask them for recommendations and make sure they don’t check the box on the prescription pad that excludes generics.
Since doctors are in frequent contact with pharmaceutical reps, they’re also your first link to coupons, discount programs, and even grants to help pay for an auto-injector prescription.
Call Your Insurance Company
Pour a fresh cup of coffee or grab a snack before trying this next tactic: getting in touch with your health insurance provider.
Your insurance benefits information may not specify your cost for something as expensive as an EpiPen, but a representative from the company may be able to look up your specific coverage and out-of-pocket cost.
I asked our company’s insurance provider about the cost if one of our staffers needed an EpiPen prescription filled. Since the provider considers the medication to be a tier-two drug, we would pay only the $35 brand-name prescription copay specified in the short version of our benefits.
A closer look at the tiered-prescription explanation for our plan has us scratching our heads, since tier two is described as “mid-cost medications.” Let’s just not remind them about that price hike.
Asking your insurance administrator for guidance is even more essential if you have a state or federally funded benefit program, like Medicare, Medicaid or TRICARE.
Enrollment in these programs often excludes you from coupons that can dramatically reduce the cost of your prescription. However, GoodRx notes that a typical Medicare copay for an EpiPen two-pack is between $15 and $270 if you’ve already met your deductible.
Look Into the Mylan Discount Program
If you’re looking for a Mylan EpiPen, try getting the My EpiPen Savings Card to bring your cost down from about $600 to about $300 for a two-pack. If you qualify, which you should if you’re over 18 and have commercial insurance, you can download the card right away.
If you have a government insurance program like Medicare, Medicaid or TRICARE, you’re not eligible.
Consider Going Generic
A generic version of the Adrenaclick dispenser is available in dosages for children and adults. Its producer, Lineage Therapeutics, offers a discount program advertising a $0 copay for some qualified individuals filling their prescriptions at participating pharmacies.
If you have commercial insurance and aren’t insured by an employer-sponsored insurance program for retirees, you’re probably eligible (here’s the fine print).
The discount form notes that commercially insured patients may receive their auto-injector prescription for free, while those paying out of pocket may receive up to $100 off each of up to three auto-injector packs. There’s also a mail-in rebate option if the pharmacy isn’t able to administer the discount at time of purchase.
That same generic auto-injector is also listed at $150-$400 at various retailers after discount coupons offered on GoodRx. Paying $150 for a generic version of a prescription doesn’t feel nice, but it’s still way better than the more expensive alternatives.
Can You Buy EpiPens From Canada?
Many Reddit users are pretty big fans of heading north to buy EpiPens at a more reasonable out-of-pocket cost — Canadian pharmacies sell them for as little as CA$109 (about US$83).
The problem? You can’t actually bring it home.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration allows American residents to import Canadian-bought prescriptions, we couldn’t confirm with them whether EpiPens were eligible. When we asked the Food and Drug Administration, press officer Theresa Eisenman was pretty clear via email that this would be a bad idea.
Importing unapproved prescription drugs for personal use is a potentially dangerous practice. Neither FDA nor the American public have any assurance that unapproved products from foreign sources are effective, safe, or produced under current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). Unapproved drugs may be contaminated, sub-potent, super-potent or counterfeit.
While Americans can purchase from Canadian online pharmacies with a valid prescription, the FDA and Consumer Reports both warn against this option, since many of those outlets don’t meet FDA standards. Your order might be cheap, but it might not include the correct medication or dosage — and you won’t know until it’s too late.
“The public health risks of unapproved drugs from foreign sources outweigh any potential cost savings,” wrote Eisenman.
Whatever You Do, Don’t DIY
Do not, we repeat, DO NOT fall into an internet black hole and start believing you can or should cobble up your own adrenaline injection method. It’s a terrible idea.
“Anyone using this approach would require extensive medical training to do it effectively and safely, without contamination or accidental intravenous injection,” Dr. James Baker of Food Allergy Research & Education told PBS NewsHour.
While auto-injectors are designed so that any regular Joe can administer the medication to someone having an allergic reaction, that lifesaving dose of adrenaline is precisely measured — not to mention regulated by the government. Trying to DIY a solution could be a recipe for disaster.
How to Get the EpiPen You Need
So, what’s your best bet? Talk to the medical pro who wrote your prescription.
They’ll be best prepared to answer questions and figure out what discount options may be available to you. It might still be expensive, but this is one of those situations where saving money can’t be the top priority — your health and safety are more important.
Your Turn: How much did it cost to refill your EpiPen prescription?
Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer for The Penny Hoarder.
Editorial intern Kelly Smith contributed research to this post.