Getting the best price: how filling a prescription is like filling your gas tank.

You’re running low on gas, and there are two gas stations nearby. Do you stop at the closest one? The one with the best coffee? Or the one advertising the lowest price? If you’re like me, lowest price usually wins.

Getting a prescription filled is a lot like filling your gas tank. Did you know that prices vary from pharmacy to pharmacy for the same medicine? And, these prices can change often. Also, similar to the gas stations, the larger, well-known pharmacy chains don’t necessarily have the most competitive prices.

Just like gas stations, pharmacies can set their own prices for medicines. They just have to stay within a certain range determined by the type of medicine it is and agreements they have with your particular health insurance plan. Manufacturing shortages and supply issues can also affect medicine prices – just like oil prices. The bottom line? If you’re spending a lot of money to fill regular prescriptions, it pays to find the best deal.

2 ways to shop for the best prescription cost with Medicare

Unlike gas stations, pharmacies don’t post their prescription prices on brightly lit signs out front. But there are still ways to find out how much your medicine will cost before you make the trip.

  • Many health plans offer an online tool that lets you search for a medicine and see the per-day costs at different pharmacies in your area. You can even do this on your smartphone. Keep in mind that your final out-of- pocket cost will depend on how your Medicare plan covers medicines under your health plan.
  • Call your Medicare plan’s member services line to find out the cost. They can talk you through options about where to go for the best price.

5 ways to lower your medicine costs

Sometimes, like in the case of a medicine shortage, it’s just not possible to get a better deal. That’s when you could talk to your doctor about making a change.

Here’s what you can ask your doctor about:

1. Instead of ordering enough for 90 days, can you order a 30-day supply?

The price of the medicine might go down in a month or two. Then you can go back to purchasing a larger supply. However, don’t skip months or days to save money.

2. Is there a different version of the same medicine?

For example, if you’re taking an extended-release version of a medicine once a day, you could try a less expensive, immediate-release version twice a day instead. The cost savings might make up for the inconvenience of taking two doses.

3. Is there a generic or preferred version of the same medicine?

By law, generic versions of a medicine must use the same active ingredients and meet the same quality and safety standards as the brand name medicine. Generics are typically less expensive.

4. Is there someone who can help me look at all of my medicines?

If you’re taking more than one medication regularly, consider scheduling a visit with a Medication Therapy Management (MTM) Pharmacist. These clinical pharmacists work closely with your doctor to look at your medicines, separately and together, to see how your medicines interact with each other. They can suggest less expensive versions of the medicines you’re taking and work with your doctor to see if you might be ready for a lower dosage.

5. If you have sticker shock at your pharmacy counter, let the pharmacist know that you need to get more information about the cost.

Then, call your health insurance company. They’ll be able to help answer your questions and let you know if there are less-expensive options available to you. You or your pharmacist can also work with your doctor to find other options.