How a Prescription Discount Card Lets You Compare Prices and Save Money

A senior citizen holds their hand out to show all the prescription pills they take.
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Medicine is one of those expenses you usually can’t put off. But the cost of prescriptions can make you feel sicker than when you first walked into the pharmacy.

According to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 26% of Americans say they have difficulty paying for their prescriptions. The cost keeps some from taking their prescriptions as directed — cutting pills in half or skipping doses to make their supply stretch. Others simply don’t fill their prescriptions, or they try to replace them with cheaper, over-the-counter drugs.

This is bad, very bad. But you don’t have to settle for high prices at the pharmacy you’ve been going to for ages. Comparison shopping with a prescription discount card can help you save money on the medicine you need.

“We shop around for televisions, we shop around for cars, but we don’t really think to shop around for prescription medications,” said Tori Marsh, director of research at GoodRx, a leading prescription discount card provider.

How Do Prescription Discount Cards Work?

Prices for medications can vary widely from one pharmacy to the next. GoodRx — and discounters like it — show you a comparison of your medication’s cost at several nearby pharmacies. These companies also negotiate lower prices to benefit consumers.

“[It’s] in the pharmacies’ best interest because we help get people in the door,” Marsh said. “Pharmacists notice a lot of the time that people leave the pharmacy counter just simply because they can’t afford their medication.”

Generally, prescription discount cards work like this:

  1. You search for your drug in your local area via the prescription discount company’s website or mobile app.
  2. Use the price comparison to select which pharmacy you want to fill your prescription. You can do this on your smartphone before leaving your doctor’s office.
  3. Print out the discount card or coupon or show the discount code to the pharmacist using the mobile app.
  4. If you have insurance on file, ask the pharmacist to process your order without running it through your insurance company.

Though you can’t use a prescription discount card in conjunction with your insurance, you may find a quoted price lower than your insurance copay, Marsh said.

She said according to research in 2019, a GoodRx card will beat an insurance copay about 75 to 80% of the time.

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Choosing a Prescription Discount Card

GoodRx is not the only company on the market producing prescription discount cards or coupons. Similar companies include:

Most major pharmacy retail chains accept prescription discount cards. Some independent pharmacies also work with these discount programs.

When trying to decide which card to use, Marsh advised to look at the company holistically to determine whether it’s acting in the consumer’s best interest.

Ask yourself: Is this company finding me the best price for my medication? Is it asking me to provide personal information, and if so, how is the company using that information? Does the company charge a fee to be part of its program?

While charging a fee doesn’t automatically make a company a scam, Marsh said, there are enough free options — like all the ones above — to choose from.

Other Ways to Save on Prescriptions

Here are a few more ways to cut your prescription drug costs:

Join a pharmacy discount program. Most major pharmacy chains also help consumers save money by offering their own discount programs for prescriptions. Instead of comparing costs to other retailers, these programs reward consumers with savings for being loyal customers. At CVS, you can earn points — called ExtraCare Rewards — that add up to a certain dollar amount off future purchases. Walmart has a list of generic prescriptions that cost $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for a 90-day supply. Walgreens and Rite-Aid have their own savings programs where you can get deals on medications.

Use Amazon Prime. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can save up to 80% on generic drugs and 40% on name-brand medications through Amazon Pharmacy if you’re paying without insurance. Most insurance plans are accepted, though. You’ll also receive free shipping, which can take up to five days, though you can pay $5.99 to expedite shipping.

Try other mail-order pharmacies. Mail-order pharmacies can often save you money on prescription medications. Because delivery can be slow, this option is best for drugs you take regularly so that you can order them at least two weeks in advance. You can often save even more money by ordering a 90-day supply instead of a 30-day supply.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.