NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 22, 2007

Americans spent $230 billion on prescription drugs in 2005, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. But there are several ways to spend less, according to health economist Devon Herrick at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

For example:

  • Substituting a generic drug can cost 20 percent to 80 percent less; another possible substitute for high-priced drugs is an over-the-counter medication approved by your doctor.
  • Comparing prices at both online and brick-and-mortar retailers, especially for regular medication; developments such as Wal-Mart's low cost programs have lowered many competitor prices.
  • Buying in bulk; a three-month supply by mail order can cost nearly the same as a one- or two-month supply at a retail drugstore, the savings on generics is even greater.
  • Purchasing medications at double strength and splitting the pill in half can save money too, since prices are often the same regardless of dosage.

And the cost reductions aren't small, according to Herrick. Utilizing these methods can yield dramatic savings. For instance:

  • Instead of paying about $140 for 100 doses of cardiovascular drug Tenormin, you could instead pay $5.65.
  • Rather than paying near $500 for 100 doses of heartburn drug Nexium, you could pay about $62.

However, one option many people seek, buying drugs from Canada, must be approached with caution, says Herrick. Buying brand-name drugs from Canada can be cheaper, sometimes much cheaper, but it's technically illegal. Plus, generic drugs are more likely to be cheaper in the United States.

Source: Gregory Karp, "Shopping for savings on prescription drugs," Sun-Sentinel, January 22, 2007; Devon Herrick, "Shopping for Drugs: 2007," National Center for Policy Analysis, Study No. 293, November 2006.

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