Prescription Medications Cost Too Much? Here's What to Do


Last updated: May 20, 2010

One of the most popular discussion topics among family caregivers is the insanely high cost of prescription medications and the failure of Medicare to cover that cost. It's a topic that comes up over and over again, and for good reason. When you can't afford the drugs you need to stay healthy, it's a serious situation.

Now comes new evidence that this crisis is very real, and is affecting more and more of us across the country. According to a report issued this week, manufacturer prices for the brand-name prescription drugs most commonly used by people on Medicare rose 9.7 percent for the year ending in March "” the biggest annual jump since 2002, when the AARP started tracking prices. The price of specialty drugs, such as many used for cancer, rose even more, by 9.2 percent.

In fact, every single drug in the list of the top 25 prescription medications cost more this year than it did the year before.

Here are the top ten, in order of how much the price increased:

  1. Aricept "“ Eisai "“ 13.9%
  2. Plavix "“ Bristol-Myers Squibb "“ 10.5%
  3. Protonix "“ Wyeth "“ 9.3%
  4. Prevacid "“ Takeda "“ 8.1%
  5. Nexium "“ AstraZeneca - 7.4%
  6. Advair "” GlaxoSmithKline "” 7.0%
  7. Fosamax "“ Merck "“ 6.7%
  8. Lipitor (20mg) "“ Pfizer "“ 5.5%
  9. Lipitor (10mg) "“ Pfizer "“ 5.5%
  10. Norvasc "” Pfizer "” 5.0%

By contrast, inflation last year was just 0.3 percent, and the price of the average generic prescription drug actually fell almost 10 percent. What gives?

Well, drug companies want to make money, and when they have a drug that people need to take, it's a guaranteed money-maker.

Perhaps more importantly, though, what can you do to afford the drugs you need?

Reports are filtering out that many older adults are foregoing drugs they need because they can't afford them. Clearly this isn't the answer. Caring.com has many resources that can help you figure out ways to afford the prescriptions you or your family members need.

Here are three valuable guides to helping you pay for prescriptions:

  1. Our guide to paying for prescription drugs has lots of valuable tips.

  2. Our guide to Medicare Part D spells out the differences in coverage, and explains the gaps and how to navigate them.

  3. Cost-saving tips abound in How to Afford Prescription Drugs Not Covered by a Medicare Part D Plan.

If you want to talk about the rising costs of drugs or share tips on how to afford medications, please share your comments. We're all in the same boat!

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28 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

about 2 years ago

I save 1000 per year using the free card I printed up at nationalprescriptiondiscounts.com. Its free to have and free to use. Not everything gets the same discount but how can you beat free?


about 2 years ago

I like the site Medicationcoupons.com. When I am in the doughnut hole, I use a discount drug card that I downloaded from this site and it helps to reduce my drug expenses. My kids have also used this site to get drug coupons that have helped reduce their co-pays. Since the drug card is free, its definitely worth looking in to.


almost 3 years ago

Hello, Thank you four nice writing. It will help me for my research on prescription medications. Thanks.


over 3 years ago

i've found out that get a store discount card, i use wellness from rite-aid and a prescription discount card that are always being mailed out to the public.using these 2 cards saved me $80 for a prescription that united health care wanted $120 for. it was a 1 time prescription , but still saving $80 with 2 cards that didn't cost a penny put a smile on my face. i also had to have my teeth pulled due to gingivitus from my COPD meds and was sent by an area association on aging. i went to a free senior health clinic, saw a dentist who said yep the agency should pay for all your work as this was a direct result of the meds. no problem we'll take care of it turned out to cost me $4,000 almost 60% of the total bill. plus i refused some treatment from the dentist they sent me to and had my teeth pulled elsewhere saving the agency over 2 grand. guess what ? they took the savings off their end of the bill. so be warned that everything these local agencies on aging promise you is sometimes not as free as you think. sorry for venting but it still gets me angry


Anonymous said almost 4 years ago

I am all too aware of the ridiculously high prices of prescription medication. I have done it all to cut costs on my meds. I've ordered from Canadian pharmacies, split pills, taken generics, begged my doctor for samples..you name it, I've done it. The new thing that I have resorted to is coupons. Thats right, they've got coupons for groceries, restaurants, household products well I have found a website that has coupons for meds. www.medicationcoupons has many coupons for all types of medical conditions. it's about time something like this came along.


Anonymous said about 4 years ago

Going to Canada to get your RX is fine although they only take cash but you never know if your shipment, (which even though ordered from Canada, may come from India or some other country,) may be seized by our government. Our government is not on our side when it comes to ordering from abroad, even if it is the only practical way for us to afford the drugs we need. And, of course, the money we spend on those drugs is NOT tax deductable. Ir is amazing that drugs from overseas can cost one tenth what they cost in the states and yet they are coming from companies that are run to make a profit.


about 4 years ago

I have had Narcolepsy since age 13. I am now 73. My life has been one curtailed of potential because of the effects. I was fortunate that I had caring and patient parents who supported my struggle to find a path I could take to live a resonably normal and happy life. But I lost out in many ways - in the work place and socially because of the effects on my system. About 5 years ago I started taking Provigil and it has made a big difference in my ability to fuinction. Unfortunately, it is too late to make a difference in many lost dreams but it still allows me to get the most out my life now. The problem is that there is no generic and when I first started using it the cost was about $8 a pill. As it proved so succesful for people with narcolepsy doctors startred prescribing it for every kind of debilitating malady. Instead of lowering the price due to increased consumption the drug company now charges about $20 a pill. I need 3 200mg pills a day. One months supply depletes my medicare D allowance by $1500. I think the manufacturer should be punished for their greed. The usual argument they make is the high cost of development but they were only charging 40% of the current price and that was probably enough to cover the development. Now that it has proved so much in demand they have increased the price 2 and one half times. 3 200MG TABLETS DAILY is what I need to function normally most of the time - I am retired, on a fixed income and over my head. I can't afford that kind of money - even with Medicare D but I need the drug each day in order to live a normal life.


about 4 years ago

i'm in the gap and have been since june. i have severe COPD that costabout $1,800 every 90 days plus other meds wwas well over $2,400 for the same length. even before the gap i was paying$ 111 for advair and the same for spiriva. asmanex i told my doctor that i wasn't going to pay a higher co-pay for it. all my doctors i told the same story. my p.c gives me all the samples he can. my gastroentologist?? told me at the first visit after my tests to buy previcadeotc to which i replied that's has a pretty high cost for each box of 24 and that i couldn't afford it , so she wrote me a scrip for omeprazolem at $4 every 90 days my shrink among other drugs was giving me alprasadom E.R for $141 for 90 days 2 a day. i asked him too for a cheaper drug and got a scrip for alprazadom 4 x a day for 90 days, guess what $4 again.. i forgot to mention instead of advair at $769 and spiriva at $520 +- he changed the nebulizer meds and gave me ipratropium / albuteral and budesonide my cost? nothing. i tell ya i got all my costly med free or generic and if the Good Lord pleases i may never come near the gap again. it's a jungle out there , become a pest to get what you want God Bless


Anonymous said about 4 years ago

i had to go to a canadian co and saved 66%. that<s a shame! to have to go outside the country to save . because of greed!


Anonymous said about 4 years ago

I guess its a simple choice; either you pay for your many meds that are keeping you alive, or you croak! Granted, I believe many people are taking way too much medications. But there's also the fact that most of your major, medication-requiring illnesses are self-inflicted by our consumption of mass quantities of food in this society. I gaurantee that many of these people are at least 40lbs overweight. If you would loose a little weight, many of these problems would either improve greatly or disappear! I'm talking about bad knees and backs, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and numerous other diseases. Start with a healthy diet, and maybe you won't need so much medications. ...just a thought from a frustrated skinny person.


Anonymous said about 4 years ago

Organizations that help patients save money on health care are out there. You just need to know where to look. In NYC, there is a non profit organization called NYCRX that was founded by NYC's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that has partnered with health centers and clinics in the NYC area to make medications available at the lowest possible cost to all New Yorkers. Prices can be as low as 75% off retail prices. Check out there website at www.nycrx.org. Queens county was recently added to this program. Long Island City Health Center is the clinic in Queens that has partnered off with NYCRX.


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

The prescription drugs we all take are way too over priced and alot of people can't afford them!!!! The people that set the price for the drugs is the doctors and the pharamcy on what they market will bear. Even if the wholesale cost of the drug is 1.50 per pill and if they charge anywhere from $ 7.50 a pill is way out of line. If these people want your business then you have to start COMPLAINING AND COMPLAINING until you get your way or you have to make a change by taking to another doctor to see what he can do for you. That offers you the herbal approach and not as expensive as there drug companies. or you can turn to different types of foods to do the job too. Different types of foods do a better job then the drugs all together but its your choice. If you can't afford it then you have to make the change like never before...


over 4 years ago

We are retired folks and both have health issues requiring many perscriptions. Some are extremely expensive and we reach the doughnut hole eariler each year. News that we can possibly receive free meds is a Godsend!


over 4 years ago

I HAVE FOUND A VERY SIMPLE WAY TO AVOID THE INSANE COSTS OF RX MEDICATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES. I AM ON DISABILITY AND TAKE 9 MEDICATIONS PER DAY. LAST YEAR IN THE MEDICARE PART D PROGRAM I SPENT SEVEN AND A HALF MONTHS IN THE "DONUT HOLE". THIS YEAR, I DISENROLLED FROM MEDICARE PART D AND NOW BUY ALL BUT THREE OF MY MEDICATIONS FROM AN ON-LINE CANADIAN PHARMACY. SO FAR THIS YEAR, I'VE SAVED NEARLY $3000.00 BY PAYING CASH FOR MY SCRIPTS. ANOTHER HELPFUL TIP...THERE ARE GENERICS FOR SOME OF MY MOST EXPENSIVE MEDS, BUT THEY ARE NOT AVAILABLE IN THE U.S. EVEN THE NAME BRANDS I BUY FROM CANADA ARE CHEAPER. ITS A WIN-WIN SITUATION. GENERICS COST FOR A 90 DAY SUPPLY WHAT I WOULD HAVE TO PAY FOR A 30 DAY SUPPLY IN THE U.S. COUNT ME HAPPY AND INFORMED. AND THESE DRUGS ARE MANUFACTURED BY THE SAME COMPANIES THAT SELL THEM IN THE U.S. IF MORE FOLKS WOULD DO THIS, YOU CAN BET PRICES FOR RX MEDS IN THE U.S. WOULD COME DOWN!


over 4 years ago

Medicare will pay $1200 for 1 injection of reclast for your bones - good for 1 year - rather than taking boniva or fosamax which no one pays for. Try and find a dr to give that injection - impossible.


over 4 years ago

The Patients Assistance Program is a joke. I asked for actonel like the ad suggested, I'm on medicare and medicaid and they won't pay for the drug - Pateints Assistance said my income of $8200 a year was too high and rejected me.Which is just as well since these are dangerous drugs.


over 4 years ago

thanks, glad to fine someone concerend about the seniors o=for a change


over 4 years ago

Brandy B.........thanks..... info keeps me hopeful...


over 4 years ago

Thanks petra...excellent info on the free meds


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

Most large Rx companies have a Patient Assistance Program (PAP) that offers 6 months to a year at at time for patients to receive free prescriptions. One of mine only sends out two month shipments instead of three month shipments but still give a one year free plan. My Dr. also wrote the Rx for 4 x per day even though I had previously been taking three x daily. And he gave me free samples when I got low or between new applications to the manufacturers. Sometimes patients are not aware of the various PAP plans and even doctors are not aware of them. And some drugs are not offered through a PAP but every little bit helps. With the job market being what it is and unemployment benefits having run out (mine ran out before the extensions started and they won't make it retroactive), the cost of Rx is more than the food budget. People in all age and economic brackets have to make a choice. Food, drugs, housing, gas to look for a new job -- where do you draw the line or make the choice?!?! Remember to ASK your doctor and call the drug company that makes your Rx (it is on the Rx bottle) and you can find them listed on the Internet or ask the Doctor or even ask the drug store personnel for help. It can't hurt to ASK!!


over 4 years ago

There is a prescription drug program offered by AmeriPlan Health that enables individuals to purchase their medications at a discount but they also have a program that allows their Members to purchase medications through a national wholesale pharmacy. All medications are priced below retail. Orders are for a 90 day supply. There's no doughnut hole in this program. If an individual is unemployed with no healthcare there is a company that offers a comprehensive package of benefits for less than $40 dollars a month for a household of up to12 people. Shoot me an email and I'll be glad to share that information with you; dlcdist@juno.com.


over 4 years ago

My first visit to this site. I am eagar to try the above 2 messages concerning free prescriptions. I buy personal script insurance now from Humana. It helps some. I purchased Plavix yesterday - 90 tabs $225.00 copay. I would be so happy to find a break in medicine cost, since I have to take 9 prescriptions.


over 4 years ago

THANKS FOR THE PRESCRIPTIONSHOPE ONLINE. U C IVE BEEN ON DISABILITY FOR 3 YEARS AND IN FEBUARY THEY NOW DECIDED THAT I NO LONGER MEET THEIR REQUIREMENTS. HOW IRONIC.... MY DRS SAY I CANT WORK SO WHAT MORE DO THEY NEED. MY DEDICATIONS R OUTRAGIOUS I AGREE. I SOMETIMES GO WITHOUT. DO U PAY BILLS, BUY GROCERIES, OR GET MY MEDS. THIS REALLY SUCKS SO HERE I WAIT TO SEE IF SOCIAL SECURITY WILL APPROVE ME. WE ALL KNOW HOW LONG THAT CAN TAKE...... I JUST PRAY THAT SOME DAY ALL MEDS WILL GO DOWN FOR EVERYONE AND HEALTH CARE ALSO....


over 4 years ago

what about the of test strips for diabetics. OUTRAGEOUS


over 4 years ago

I quit my job last year and have not found another one. I found prescriptionhope.com online, because I could not afford my medications any longer. You need to provide info that you are not employed, get a prescription from your doc and send it to them. They will contact the pharmacutical companies and you can get free meds for up to a year. God bless. Petra


Anonymous said over 4 years ago

Thank you for that suggestion, BrandyB! Will look into it. What worked for us last year (my husband's first year on Alzheimer's meds) was this: By the third quarter of the year he landed in the coverage gap, which meant it was going to cost $1,000 for meds to carry him through to the end of the year. However, the doctor kindly gave us samples -- one month's supply of each of the Rx meds -- telling me to check back in a month to see if had more surplus. I did this monthly and we were able to get through the remainder of the year just fine, and had enough to take us through the first month of the new year. I've heard that doctors are happy to do this for their patients, so long as they have enough free samples on hand. In our case, we were very thankful for the help in saving $1,000. Another thing: Once my own doctor made an error in writing my Rx for Lipitor, making it for 20mg instead of 10mg. I checked with him to make sure he didn't mean to double my dose (he didn't) but he said to go ahead and use the Rx and just cut them in half. Which meant that one 90 day supply was good for 180 days (for the cost of a 90 day supply). Since then he has written it for the higher dose, knowing that I'm alert enough to always cut them in half. This saves me $250 per year. It worth asking one's doctor is he is willing to do this.


over 4 years ago

Yes, I completely agree, I've recommended this service highly in other articles - very valuable tool!


over 4 years ago

Seniors (and their caregivers) with limited resources might also want to try BenefitsCheckUp, a free, confidential online service from the National Council of Aging at www.benefitscheckup.org. BenefitsCheckUp allows users to assess their eligibility to receive discounted/free prescriptions available from Federal, state, local and private programs.


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