According to statistics, almost half of Americans take at least one prescription medication daily. The National Health Expenditure Data shared that in 2020 Americans spent $488.4 billion on prescription medications. With rising costs of living and healthcare, people are wondering how to afford their prescription drugs. Combine that with the lack of price transparency regarding how much a drug costs out of pocket, it can be difficult to plan.
In this article, I talk about the price of common prescription drugs without insurance. We discuss several factors that influence the cost and examine if these medications are cheaper with insurance.
How Much Do Prescription Drugs Cost Without Insurance?
Here is a breakdown of some commonly prescribed medications in the United States and their average retail cost (without insurance).
|Prescription drug||Average retail cost|
Factors that Influence Prescription Drug Cost
Several factors affect the cost of prescription medications including if the medication you take is the generic or brand-name version, your insurance plan, the dosage you take, how often you take it, and where you purchase your prescriptions.
Generic vs. Brand
A large factor affecting the cost of your prescription medication depends on if you get the generic or brand-name version. Generic medications usually cost much less when compared to brand-name; however, you receive the same benefits from the drug.
The reason for the large difference in cost has to do with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. To create a new medication, a drug company must pay for development and research. This includes testing its safety through animal and human testing.
Once the FDA approves the medication for use on the market, they give the drug company a patent for the new pill. This rewards the drug company for the money spent on the medication’s development by making them the only ones able to sell the drug for at least 20 years.
Once the patent expires, other drug companies may create their version of the medication using the initial development and research results. Because they don’t need to spend so much money on testing, they can sell their generic version for less money.
The new generic version is bioequivalent to the original brand-name medication, meaning they contain identical amounts of the same active ingredients and are equally safe and effective. The differences between the two drugs are the inactive ingredients and cost.
Below is a comparison chart of brand-name medications versus the generic option for a month’s supply.
|Brand-name medication||Cost||Generic version||Cost|
Most insurance plans include some prescription coverage, however, you do not need insurance to seek medical care or get a medication prescription. If you do not have health insurance, there are affordable options you can use. The most affordable places to get medical assistance are community health centers or clinics. Click here to find one near you. There are also telehealth options like K Health which tend to be less expensive than seeing a medical provider in a facility.
You may, however, be surprised at the affordability of some health insurance plans. Marketplace is where you can search for insurance plans based on your income. Simply fill in your location, the number of people you need to insure, and answer some questions about your income. Marketplace then helps find an insurance policy that may work for you.
Dosage and how often you take the medication
Surprisingly, the dosage of your medication may affect the cost of your medication. The other factor is the quantity you need. If you take the medication for a short time, you may pay more than someone who purchases three months’ worth of medication.
Below are examples of the price differences between dosage and quantity amounts. Prices are taken from drugs.com
|Lisinopril||2.5 mg||100 tablets||$10.64|
|5 mg||45 Tablets||$10.27|
|10 mg||45 Tablets||$10.51|
|40 mg||45 Tablets||$11.29|
|Atorvastatin||10 mg||90 Tablets||$15.93|
|20 mg||90 Tablets||$18.83|
|40 mg||30 Tablets||$19.53|
|80 mg||30 Tablets||$20.98|
|Omeprazole||10 mg||30 Capsules||$39.79|
|20 mg||30 Capsules||$11.04|
|40 mg||30 Capsules||$12.31|
Where you buy your prescription
Pharmacies purchase prescription medications in bulk and then determine how much they are going to charge for them. A Consumer Reports survey in 2018 had secret shoppers call over 100 pharmacies across the country and ask about the prices of certain medications. What they found was surprising. For example, the same prescription medication may vary by hundreds of dollars depending on what pharmacy you use. The survey even found large price differences between pharmacies in the same town.
Other reports note that national chain pharmacies tend to have the highest prices, while independent pharmacies tend to have lower prices. To save money, call around to the pharmacies in your town and price-check your medications before picking them up. Ask your pharmacist about any coupons or discounts they may offer and if paying with cash rather than insurance is cheaper.
Are Prescriptions Always Cheaper with Insurance?
The short answer to this question is, no. Sometimes drugs are cheaper if you do not have insurance.
Drug companies and insurance companies make deals on how much consumers pay out of pocket for medication. Different deals are made for each insurance company. This can cause great confusion and frustration for the consumer.
To further add to the confusion, some insurance companies require a copay for each prescription.
So the answer is more on an individual basis, check with your pharmacist about how much your prescription costs if you pay out-of-pocket and what the difference is between the price and generic and the price of the brand name.
How Prescription Costs Are Determined
When a pharmaceutical company takes the risk of inventing a new medication, it requires a large amount upfront cost for development and research. When the new drug is ready for the market, the company has exclusive rights to the drug patents for 20 years as a reward for their risk. During this time the pharmaceutical company prices the new drug at a higher cost so they can realize a profit from their new medication.
When generic versions of the medication come into the market, this helps drive the cost of the medication down. Generic medication prices are closer to the cost of manufacturing the medication (minus cost of research).
Tips for Saving on Prescriptions
Lastly, here are some tips on how you can save money on your medications.
- Look for discounts online
- Try 90-day prescriptions
- Ask your pharmacy about discounts
- Shop different pharmacies
- Try skipping insurance
- Consider using independent and supermarket pharmacies
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable virtual primary care with K Health?
Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Comprehension of top 200 prescribed drugs in the US as a resource for pharmacy teaching, training and practicing.
Factors influencing affordability. (2018.)
Getting prescription medications. (n.d.)
How to pay less for your meds. (2018.)
Income level and savings. (n.d.)
NHE fact sheet. (2020.)
Pharmacy buying guide. (2018.)
Prescription drugs may cost more with insurance than without it. (2017.)
State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs. (2016)
Therapeutic drug use. (2021.)
Where to receive low-cost health care in your community. (n.d.)