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What To Do When You Can’t Afford Your Medication

By Kira Botkin

Pile of medication pills

I work for a pharmacy and frequently hear that people have lost their insurance or are having trouble affording copays. As a result, some simply stop ordering their medication. If you’re in a similar situation, there IS help for you out there and you should NOT assume that you’re simply going to have to do without. There are many resources which can help you stay on your medication without going broke:

Ask Your Doctor

If you have insurance, your doctor may be able to save you money by switching you to a similar product or a generic, or by writing prescriptions for longer periods to save on copays. Another option is if you’re only taking the medication for a short time, your doctor may have free samples on hand. The doctor’s office staff may also know about local resources that you can use to save on medication. Don’t be embarrassed – write up a list of your medications, and inquire about some money-saving tips. The staff is likely to be able to give you help and suggestions without an office visit.

Shop Around

Many people don’t realize that there is no set price for medications, and that consumers often pay too much for prescription drugs. Call pharmacies in your area with a list of your medications and ask them what they would charge. In some cases, you can save a lot of money by opting for lower strength medication and taking larger two of it.  For example, I take the generic equivalent of Prilosec, and have found that two 20mg pills cost half as much as one 40mg even though it works just the same! You can check with the pharmacist to see if this is okay – frequently the pharmacist can make a change like this without requiring a new prescription.

Ask For A Discount

At the pharmacy, you can always ask if they participate in any programs that might offer a discount. We used to pay cash for my mother-in-law’s prescriptions, and one day I noticed $10 off on the receipt. I asked the cashier what it was and she said, “Oh, it’s the cash discount program” and smiled. So it never hurts to ask because you may never know otherwise.


A great website to check is NeedyMeds.org. This site has listings of hundreds of medications, with information about discounts and assistance specific to each medication. Clear and helpful directions for each program will assist you in getting the right information the first time. They also have a prescription discount card which is free to all.

Check With The Manufacturer

If you have truly fallen on hard times or otherwise have a low income, you can sometimes qualify for free medication through assistance programs run by the manufacturer. These are available mostly on drugs that don’t have a generic equivalent. Look up the website of the manufacturer, go to NeedyMeds.org, or simply Google “patient assistance program [your drug’s name].” You’ll get forms to fill out that ask for information about your household, your income, and your health. Your doctor will likely need to sign off on the form as well since it effectively acts as a prescription. Many manufacturers will provide drugs for a period of time for free or a reduced cost if you are truly in need.

Other Resources

There are hundreds of prescription discount programs – just Google “prescription discount card” and you will be able to sign up for as many as you like. They’re not all going to be helpful for every medication in every location, but if it’s free, who cares? Be wary of any that charge a fee – especially a monthly fee.

If you’re over 50, and don’t have an AARP card, what are you waiting for? AARP members get great prescription discounts – they even have a special program set up with Walgreen’s so that you can get mail-order prescriptions for less than retail. And, of course, you get discounts on tons of other things as well. For a membership that is currently $16 per year (or less, if you sign up for multiple years at once), it’s well worth it.

Lastly, if you have a specific disease that you are treating, you may be able to receive assistance from organizations that are devoted to the cause. You can find information using Google or asking your doctor’s office for help. There may even be a local chapter in your area.

Even if your financial situation is precarious, don’t let your health be the victim. There is help available for you!

(photo credit: e-MagineArt.com)

Kira Botkin
Kira is a longtime blogger and serial entrepreneur who enjoys gardening, garage sales, and finding stray animals. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where football is a distinct season, and by day runs a research study for people with multiple sclerosis. She hopes that the MoneyCrashers team can help you achieve your goals and live a great life.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_323TVDD726GS2J62LYEBGEUAGI JoyJ

    I go for generic medications when I can not afford for brand medications. You can get discount medications online. I usually get them at International Drug Mart.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_323TVDD726GS2J62LYEBGEUAGI JoyJ

    I go for generic medications when I can not afford for brand medications. You can get discount medications online. I usually get them at International Drug Mart.

  • Blessed5312

    any suggestions beyond this, I’ve exhausted all of the suggestions here with no luck.

    • Kira Botkin

      If you have a specific disease that you’re taking the medication for, you should contact groups that are dedicated to that disease. They may be able to provide more guidance.

  • Sterj13

    I’m screwed because I get a very bad reaction to the generic of the med I need for my depression/anxiety. Most PAPs only send out generics and you can only get generics for the lower cost. Brand names cost per tablet which still doesn’t help me. I have a very limited income and can’t pay $129 a month for Brand names. But I can’t take the generic form.

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