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As Drug Costs Rise, Here Are 6 Tips to Help Cut Your Pharmacy Bill

If you're one of the millions of Americans who regularly take a prescription drug, here are some tips to cut your costs.
Image: Prescription drugs are prepared for a customer at a pharmacy
Prescription drugs are prepared for a customer at a pharmacy on June 16, 2003 in Hollywood, Fla. Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Public backlash against Turing Pharmaceuticals for raising the price of the life-saving drug Daraprim, which treats malaria and toxoplasmosis, by more than 5,000 percent to $750 per pill made the drug company reverse course last week. And now lawmakers and presidential candidates are scrutinizing the pharmaceutical industry. Yet prices on many other prescription drugs are projected to rise sharply next year.

Prescription drug price inflation is expected to approach double-digits in 2016, more than 10 times the consumer price index for all goods and services, according to a health-cost survey by the Segal Group. The benefits consulting firm estimates that prescription drug price will rise 9.8 percent in 2016, up from a 7.5 percent increase this year.

If you're one of the millions of Americans who regularly take a prescription drug, you can make several moves to lessen the burden of increasing drug costs.

Review all the prescription drugs you're taking

About 44 percent of adult Americans say they regularly take at least one prescription drug, according to a survey by Consumer Reports. And a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control found that more than one in 10 Americans had used five or more prescription drugs in the previous 30 days. Ask your doctors and pharmacist if all the medications you are taking are necessary. Some drug combinations might be redundant. Fewer prescriptions can lower your drug bill and decrease the chance of harmful interactions and side effects.

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Use your health plan's formulary

That's the official list of medicines your health plan pays for. Drugs on the list change every year. Ask your doctor and pharmacist to use drugs from the formulary when writing and filling new prescriptions. Consider whether the prescriptions you regularly use are covered if you are evaluating health plans for next year during open enrollment, said Karen Frost, senior vice president of health strategy and solutions with benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt.

Look for generic alternatives or less expensive brand-name drugs

Keep in mind the cost savings from generics is slowing. An AARP study found that 280 generic drugs widely used by seniors only dropped 4 percent on average in 2013, which was the slowest rate of decline since 2006.

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Consider mail-order pharmacies for prescription drugs you take regularly

Overall drug costs at mail-order pharmacies were 16 percent lower than retail pharmacies across all drugs, according to a 2013 analysis by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Plus, mail-order pharmacies are "super-convenient," Frost said.

Sign up for coupons and discount cards

Pharmacies, associations and drug makers provide discounts and coupons that reduce your pharmacy bill. Smart phone apps, such as GoodRx, can help you comparison shop for the best price on prescriptions in your area.

Shop for prescription drugs at discount stores

Secret shoppers for Consumer Reports found that Costco usually offered the lowest retail prices on medications. Target and Wal-Mart sell hundreds of generic drugs for $4 per prescription. "The $4 generics can add up to big savings, especially for seniors," Frost said.