How to Afford Your Medication without Insurance (an Incomplete Guide)

Pill-bottle-spilling

I am not a medical professional and my advice should not be taken in lieu of seeking a medical professional or in lieu of taking the advice of a medical professional.

I got laid off in 2015 from my non-profit job and had two weeks left of my insurance benefits when I found out that my insurance had stopped covering my medication a month prior and my out of pocket costs were now $2,000. Needless to say, I didn’t get the medication. I went without it. Trying to look for a new job while being untreated for my ADHD was an exhausting nightmare that nosedived my self-esteem. I felt like I had failed at adulthood, and that I’d never be able to really provide for myself. I had never felt so sick and helpless in my life. Getting prescriptions while uninsured is daunting and financially stressful. Figuring out how to get meds you need while paying rent is awful, and your health is something you shouldn’t have to compromise on. Here’s some strategies I recommend you check try to get the treatment you need, no matter what your insurance status is.

Figure Out What Your Cost is Likely to Be

It helps to know how much to expect to pay for your drugs and a lot of sites will give you a ballpark estimate. Different pharmacies will have different prices and costs will vary by hundreds of dollars. I take a Concerta generic for my ADHD and according to the sites I searched, I can expect to pay as much as $500 out of pocket for this medication  for 30 days of medication but it’s also been listed as low as $150 or $110. That’s still a lot of money to pay monthly, but at least I knew what price ranges I was dealing with. It saved me an awkward conversation with my pharmacy. Knowing what to expect can take a lot of stress off people who lost their insurance and checking costs on sites like LowestMed, RXPriceQuotes, and Consumer Reports will give you a benchmark for out of pocket cost. Whatever you do, don’t skip medication you need. I understand the perception that it’s prudent and cost effective, but you need your medication and should take it if you have it.

Coupon and Prescription Programs

Walgreens Prescription Savings Club has you sign up for a $20 membership which means you have to keep track of additional log ins or key cards. However, Walgreens offers 20% discounts on immunizations (splurge and get yourself a flu shot if you can) and offers discounts on many medications. Check with your Walgreens pharmacist to see if the program is a worthwhile investment. Warning, if you are receiving Medicare or Medicaid, you aren’t eligible for the club.

CVS’s program, Extracare, is a reward card that accrues $50 in rewards annually. It’s not great because the coupons you use can’t be applied to prescriptions, BUT their coupons work on some over the counter pharmacy medication. Save those $5 off coupons that they give you on your incredibly long receipt.

Costco’s prescription program is free for people who are Costco members and boasts to give a deep discount on everything. They even do pet medication which I was impressed to find out. You can find the enrollment form online and turn it into your pharmacist to join the program.

AARP’s program is called OptumRx and is designed for medications not covered by insurance and is strictly for AARP members.

Rite Aid’s Rx Savings Program has a whole list of generics they offer at a discount and promise a 15% discount on traditional medications. They also have deals on diabetic test strips, select generics as low as $9.99, and generic birth control for $19.99. Check out their guide to see if any of your medications are discounted.

Discount Sites and Patient Assistant Programs

CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid don’t offer payment plans, but there are probably sliding scale pharmacies in your area that you can find through  NeedyMeds. I realize the name of the website is rather insulting but they can help you find free clinics, cheaper medications, and help you pay out of pocket costs. Patient Assistant Programs like Patient Advocate, RX Assist, and PPARX will help you find programs by state and these services are free. You can spot a scam if they ask you to pay.

Try out prescription coupon sites like:

GoodRx

LowestMed

WellRx

Blinkhealth

PlanetDrugsDirect

Prescription Saver

Refillwise

Discount Drug Network

Coupon sites like LowestMed are where I’ve had the best luck with discounts on my ADHD medication. I’ve been able to knock down a $100 generic to around $30.

Ask Your Doctor for Samples

If you’re looking into a new medication and don’t want to fork over hundreds of dollars on a medication you’re not sure about, ask if a two week trial is available from your doctor. Doctors often get samples from pharmaceutical companies who are releasing new medication (note: this is not the same as clinical trials or testing of the medication) and your doctor might be able to issue you some

Negotiate with Your Pharmacy

This will be a lot easier with neighborhood pharmacies than places like CVS or Walgreens, but your local mom and pop pharmacy might have some wiggle room on medical pricing, even generics. If you have a good relationship with your pharmacist, and explain your situation, they might be able to get you a better deal and/or a payment plan.

Switch to Over the Counter (If You Can)

Don’t switch to an over the counter medication without the advisement of your doctor, but if you can try an over the counter medication in lieu of prescription, it’s a great way to save cash. Lots of medications you can get over the counter or online like Plan B and its generic My Way (the packaging is terrible but it’s a solid 7 dollars cheaper depending on the day), nasal decongestants including Sudafed PE, and allergy medications. Some blood pressure, thyroid, and digestive conditions can me managed through over the counter meds but don’t change up your regime without first consulting your doctor. Some meds you can get through Amazon or other online retailers but you must be careful when buying medication online that the distributor is reputable.

Revolt

Now that you’ve seen the uphill slog that it takes to afford medication, and the hoops and fire involved in getting affordable care, you are probably considering revolution. Good. As you should. After all, as an American, I believe in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life meaning access to healthcare, medication, and services, liberty as being free of having to spend all this time hounding the internet just to get the care I require to be well, and pursuit of happiness as in doing literally anything else than all of this. Think of what we could achieve if we weren’t constantly in survival mode. Think of what we could do, united together, with equal access. Now is the time, people. We revolt at dawn!

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