How To Fill A 120-Day Prescription For 1/5th Of The Regular Price

Here’s a potential way to get certain drug prescriptions filled cheaply—as in, a several-month supply for less than $15—from our own Consumerist reader and commenter Hambriq. He posted it last week and we thought it was worth bringing to the foreground for more readers to see.

Here’s a tip about pharmacies; we all have a minimum price that we charge for prescription drugs. It doesn’t matter how cheap the drug is. The drug could cost less than a penny, and we would still charge that minimum fee. At my pharmacy, that fee is $10.99. At most pharmacies, the fee is comparable as well.

We do this for two reasons. One, it’s illegal for an insurance company to charge you more than the store price for a prescription drug. Most insurance companies have a $10 copay for generics. So, when you get your 30 hydrocholorthiazide or atenolols, the insurance company can charge you $10.00, even though the actual price of the drug is closer to $2.00. This is because the pharmacy would charge you $10.99, so the insurance company gets away with charging you “less” that what we would charge you.

Secondly, it’s done to recoup losses in other areas, like theft, loss, damages, and non-reimbursement. Our friendly way of passing the charges on to you.

So this has two implications. One, most of those $4.00 generics are drugs that actually cost less than $4.00 for a thirty day supply. Two, there’s a crafty way to get around the price increase.

First things first: make sure your drug is actually cheap. If you’re getting ANYTHING that’s a brand name, it’s not cheap. Most anti-depressants aren’t cheap. A few that are: Generic Xanax, Ativan, and Valium (alprazolam, lorazepam, diazepam). Generic Vicodin. Lower strength lisinopril (and anything that ends with -pril, for the most part.) Hydrochlorothiazide. Levothyroxine. Atenolol.

Then, tell your doctor to write your prescription for 90 or 100 pills at a time, rather than 30. Then, tell your pharmacy that you don’t want to file the drug on your insurance. We’ll give you the cash price of the drug, and because you’re getting so many, you probably won’t end up paying the minimum charge. 120 hydrochlorothiazide costs 12.04. 30 costs 10.99, which translates out to a 10.00 copay on mosts insurances.

The best part is, there’s nothing illegal about this. You’re not committing fraud or being even the slightest bit immoral. You’re just beating the system.

Thanks, Hambriq! And we have no idea whether or not this will work for your specific meds at your specific pharmacy, so good luck.

Comments

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  1. darkclawsofchaos says:

    wow genius and nice, or some pharmicist is anry he lost his business to the local CVS and now that he is paid by the hour at CVS, he is trying to stick it into the system

  2. missdona says:

    Another way to save on Full Price Non Generics, is with rebates. Tons of Rxs have rebates, it’s worth a quick google search of whatever you’re on.

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Awesome, I take one of the mentioned drugs and I travel a lot for business, so I do not want to have to potentially run out of meds in the middle of nowhere. Thanks!

  4. bohemian says:

    most of the expensive brand name only drugs are now doing a plastic card discount system. They mail you a plastic card worth $10 to $20 off. I think this is so people can’t use repeated discounts aquired under different names or by friends for their prescriptions. Still better than a kick in the head.

    If your on ExpressScripts you can get 3 months for the price of two months copay at Walgreens but you have to ask and sometimes insist if they are lazy.

    I found that one of the legit Canadian pharmacies has my brand name thyroid med. A three months supply at retail for the cost of one months copay.

  5. Holy crap, that’s awesome!!

    Hambriq, you rock!

  6. juri squared says:

    And of course, the last part works with just about any drug. I’m on 60mg of a not-yet-generic drug. I have my doctor write out a script for 90mg in 30mg capsules, and I take two a day instead of three. Voila, I just got thirty more pills for the same price.

    Of course, YMMV depending on your doctor and whether or not he/she trusts you.

  7. Truthie says:

    Remember that for some drugs a doctor cannot write more than a 30-day prescription at a time (these would be DEA scheduled drugs). So unfortunately this wouldn’t work for them.

    BTW did you know that pharmacies’ profit margins for generic drugs are usually far higher than for prescription drugs? That’s the main reason they are so aggressive about pushing generics.

  8. lalahsghost says:

    Hmm, being diabetic, I might have to look into this for some of my medications…. :3

  9. ElizabethD says:

    This passage may confuse some readers:

    “Most anti-depressants aren’t cheap. A few that are: Generic Xanax, Ativan, and Valium (alprazolam, lorazepam, diazepam).”

    Note that the meds named above are not antidepressants, but anti-anxiety meds in the benzodiazepine class. I think it was unclear writing, not confusion on the author’s part. Just sayin! And, aren’t most generic drugs cheap, relatively speaking?

  10. xamarshahx says:

    when i shop at eckerd (now riteaid), they seem to do this automatically, sometimes i would only pay $2 for a prescription.

  11. Antediluvian says:

    My CVS charges me less than my co-pay if the prescription costs less. Got me some antibiotics for about $6.79 rather than the $10 co-pay a while ago. Maybe CVS doesn’t do minimum charges? Maybe not in Massachusetts?

  12. RandomHookup says:

    Of course, this takes away the fun of moving your script from one pharmacy to another every month in exchange for a $20-30 gift card for a transferred prescription.

  13. ptr2void says:

    @Antediluvian: Oh no, CVS (in Massachusetts) definitely has a minimum charge. My wife has fairly frequent MRIs and requires sedation in the form of two lorazepam (Ativan) tablets. It’s $10 for them. Gee, I should check around next time, cheap bastard that I am :)

  14. amoeba says:

    I CAN HAZ GENERIX? YAY!

  15. fredmertz says:

    I live in NY and have paid actual price for many generics (sometimes less than $5). Any good pharmacist will tell you when the cost of the prescription is less than the copay. I think this man is full of cr*p, because neither CVS nor Walgreen’s have a “minimum charge” for prescriptions in NY.

  16. kaikhor says:

    Actually, the Walmart pharmacy tipped me off to this one.

    I had to get my prenatal vitamins and the doc gave me a generic prescription for 120 at a time. When I went in, it was $20.00 for all 120 or go through my insurance and pay $10, but only get 30 because that was the limit my insurance company put on it. Of course I took the 120 for $20

  17. shulkman says:

    Another money saving tip, (especially for those without insurance): Call around to local pharmacies and ask for their cash price. Or, if you have a Costco in your area, go there. You do not have to have a membership to use the pharmacy at Costco, and I have never seen anyone beat their cash price. (With the exception of Wal-Mart’s $4 presciptions.)

    Also, you can call Costco and get their cash price over the phone, take that into your pharmacy, and ask them to match the price. Most pharmacies will match it. (And if they don’t… go find a new pharmacy.)

    And, I have to add a little extra info on JURIJURI’s post. Most (90-95%) of prescription meds are measured by quantity when it comes to figuring the cost of a drug, not the strength. Zoloft (now generic sertraline) is a classic example of this. Rather than buy 30 tablets @ 50mg strength, you could get 15 tablets @ 100mg strength, split the tablets, and save about 50%. Of course, the really only works with tablets, and you should always ask the pharmacist if it is ok to split the tablet. Medications that are an “extended-release” formulation typically cannot be split.

  18. robdew3 says:

    I would be highly reluctant to ask your doctor to write a big prescription for hydrocodone and tell them you want to keep it off insurance. Hope you and your doctor know each other REAL well.

  19. amoeba says:

    I was checking my Insurance. For what I understood is that, I will get cheaper prices for generics if I buy them online for unlimited quantities (up to 90). If I want to buy my prescription at my local pharmacy, I am limited to buy only a month supply. So, in other words, my insurance wants me to buy them online for a cheaper price. So far, Wal-Mart gave me a good price for my generics.

  20. Dick.Blake says:

    I worked in a chain pharmacy for six years and saw this kind of crap happen all the time. At my store, we’d sell a generic drug to someone for just a bit over cost if they didn’t have insurance or were in a pinch.

    Some generics are dirt cheap (ie: the ones which Walmart offers a 30day supply for 5 bucks… the pharmacy’s cost of acquisition is MUCH less than 5 bucks… PROFIT!) And since they’re not submitting anything to insurance, its pure profit. Insurance companies are notorious for accepting your claim for a drug, charging you an unholy copayment because its “tier 3/non formulary”, and reimbursing the pharmacy diddly-squat… only the privilege of being contracted with an insurance carrier that 60% of your customers have.

  21. Crazytree says:

    if you take an expensive drug…

    talk your doc into giving you double the dose you need…

    and just split the little f*ckers in half.

    you just cut down your annual medication expenses in half.

  22. rbb says:

    @Crazytree: Or just get the doc to double the number of pills needed per day and you won’t have to split them at all…

  23. othertim says:

    This only works on the truly cheap, old as dirt (but still probably just as effective as the brand name only item that’s 15 times as much) drugs, but yup. It’s true. The pharmacy won’t mind, as has been pointed out, we’re still making a solid margin on the product. That hydrochlorothiazide 25mg? I don’t have access to the actual figures, but I’d be surprised if See Vee Ess paid 10 bucks for the entire 1,000-count bottle.

    Regarding the “have your doctor write for double the dose” trick, that’s a little iffier. Make sure that what your prescriptions says is still in the range of an accepted dose or your doctor will be getting a phone call where the pharmacist asks them why they’re trying to kill you.

  24. ldnyc says:

    I switched to costco (in brooklyn) recently for just this reason. For generic Zoloft alone, I was paying a $10 co-pay at CVS for 30 of the 50mg tablets. I had my doc write it up for 100mg tabs instead and now I fill it at Costco where I pay under $5 for what is now a 60-day supply since I split the 100s in half.

  25. LAGirl says:

    it also depends on how your doctor writes the prescription. let’s say he writes a script for 30 pills/30 days, 1 per day. with my insurance it would be $15 for generic or $25 for brand. however, if he changes it to 90 pills/30 days, 3 per day, it’s the same co-pay, $15 or $25.

    Blue Cross has limits on certain medications and they will only allow a certain quantity per month. the way around this? have your doctor fill out a request to increase the quantity. i had to do this with my migraine medication when Blue Cross cut the monthly quantity from 12 to 9. they initially denied his request. but he wrote an appeal letter, and they approved it.

    so now, not only do i save money, but i have enough migraine medication to get me through each month.

  26. Snakeophelia says:

    Starting in March 2007, my insurance (BCBS Personal Choice) dropped the co-pay on generics for the remainder of the year. So I think it’s time for my doctor to write me some 90-day prescriptions so I can stock up in December…

  27. tklawsonpharmtech says:

    Well, people, the internet pharmacies are going down fast. The DEA doesn’t care for them unless they have the coveted “VIPPS” SEAL. This means you must mail them the original and wait 4 weeks. Something most won’t do. It’s not that internet retailers that are less than honest, it’s now the law in more states that a good faith examination must be valid. Questionaires are out unless you can furnish PE’s CT’s MRI’s Bloodwork, all < 1 yr old. The consult is 120.00 But the service is highly convienent IF, you can get copies of the nomanclature. Mexico,India ETC.these sources are out! don’t do it.

  28. tklawsonpharmtech says:

    Sam’s Club, and Costco can’t be beat- in general (if you pay cash) #30 Ct generic 10 mg Valium 5- USD 60-90 Ct 12 USD maybe. *FYI alprazolam (Xanax)is classified as a modest anti-depressant (although highly addictive after 2-3 weeks)

  29. Hambriq says:

    @truthie: Remember that for some drugs a doctor cannot write more than a 30-day prescription at a time (these would be DEA scheduled drugs). So unfortunately this wouldn’t work for them.

    This is true, but you can easily stretch the definition of “30 day supply”. I got a prescription for 30 Ambien a couple months ago… and I still have half the bottle left. But because the instructions read “Take 1 at bedtime”, it’s considered 30 days. Certain states are a lot more strict with their interpretation, however, so don’t push the limits TOO much.

    ===========

    @ElizabethD: Note that the meds named above are not antidepressants, but anti-anxiety meds in the benzodiazepine class. I think it was unclear writing, not confusion on the author’s part. Just sayin! And, aren’t most generic drugs cheap, relatively speaking

    This is true. What I wrote should have read like this: “A lot of generics aren’t cheap. X, Y, and anti-depressants aren’t cheap. However, here are a few that are: A, B, and C.” Good call.

    @xamarshahx:
    @fredmertz:

    If you’re getting your generics at cost, one of three things is going on. Your pharmacist is waiving the minimum charge, in which case you have a very nice pharmacist. Or, your pharmacy doesn’t have/your state doesn’t allow a minimum charge. Some independents may not have a minimum charge, but I don’t know enough about specific state laws to tell you if one state doesn’t allow these or not. You can easily find out if your pharmacy has a minimum charge by calling in, telling them you have a prescription for 1 generic Ativan 1mg for an MRI and you don’t have insurance, and you want to know how much it costs. If it’s anything more than about a dollar or two, you know you’re getting the shaft.

    Thirdly, and most likely, you probably have an insurance which ignores these minimum charges. Legally, an insurance company cannot charge you more than what the pharmacy would have charged you. That doesn’t mean every insurance company will abuse these minimum charges. A lot of them do. But a lot of them don’t. If you have insurance and you’re paying less than 5 dollars for your prescriptions, it means that they’re not gouging you on the price.

    Also, another way to save money, as people mentioned, is to have the doctor write the prescription for a higher dose than what you actually take. I don’t recommend this for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s fraud. Secondly, if you don’t have insurance, the dose doesn’t matter, the quantity does, so it’s unnecessary. Thirdly, if you do have insurance and they see you’re supposedly taking three Cymbaltas a day and four Coregs, they’ll probably reject you at first and then acquiesce after the doctor gives them a call. But then, if you ever get caught, they can sue you for fraud. And also, your risk to the insurance company gets a massive ratchet up the ol’ scale and you’re a lot more likely to be dropped or have your premiums go up.

  30. Hambriq says:

    Also, if anyone wants clarification on how to do this, or if you want to know just how much the medicines you’re taking right now are actually costing you (and whether or not you’d benefit from this trick), fire me an email:

    hambriq@gmail.com

    I’ll do my best to look up how much what you’re taking costs, and how you can save some money.

  31. Bobg says:

    I had stents installed. I take eight pills a day. The pills were costing me $1007 a month. I took a list of all the generic drugs with me for my next appointment and raised hell with my doctor. My prescriptions are now all generic and cost me $20 a month. BTW-I have a cousin that is a rep for a huge drug company. He drives a top-of-the-line Porsche and couldn’t care less about how the price of presrips affect you. Just keep the Porsche running and the hot tube percing.

  32. chaitea says:

    I really have to wonder about the option of having a doctor write a script for more pills per dosage than is needed.

    Can a doctor legally (and ethically) enter false (i.e. dosage) information on your record?

    You would have to be very vigilant in the case of sudden illness or
    accident to be sure the attending healthcare providers aren’t getting
    their information from those records, but rather directly from the
    patient, to avoid overmedicating or drug interactions.

  33. Navin R Johnson says:

    Walmart is planing to make a profit selling $4 generic prescriptions without involving an insurance plan.

    [www.nytimes.com]

    That means my $10 copay is probably a ripoff (not to mention the extra money I pay for a prescription plan!)

  34. paranoia2mb says:

    This article is not realistic. I work for a health insurance company in Massachusetts.

    First, your doctor is not going to prescribe more than needed. This would cost them their contract with the insurance company and possibly their license, period. It’s not to say this doesn’t happen, but ‘trends’ are tracked (ever hear the nickname ‘Doctor Feelgood’?) What they do allow however, is to prescribe a higher dosage, and have the patient split them in two if appropriate.

    Second, insurance companies do not make the prices on prescriptions–the pharmacy does–plain and simple. They buy from vendors that sell the prescriptions and depending on their markup, the cost is always different. I have seen many Rx claims in our systems that state Hydrochlorithiazide being around $3.96 for a 30 day supply, depending on where that pharmacy obtained it–and we can’t charge more than that.

    There you go, simplified. Insurance has nothing to do with prescription cost, other than your copays and what tier level they fall into, or if they are covered.

  35. Hambriq says:

    @paranoia2mb:
    First, your doctor is not going to prescribe more than needed. This would cost them their contract with the insurance company and possibly their license, period. It’s not to say this doesn’t happen

    I never suggested that a doctor lie about how much of a medicine you take. It’s illegal, and borderline unethical. What I am suggesting is that the doctor write your prescription for a 90 to 120 day supply rather than a 30 day supply with 3 to 4 refills. This is perfectly legal and perfectly ethical.

    Secondly, did you even read my post? Given the blatant misunderstanding laced through both of your points, I’m going to have to say you gave it a cursory look-over and this post is the result of your knee-jerk reaction. Okay, how can I make this any clearer than I did in my post? The “minimum charge” is set by the pharmacy. There’s nothing to argue here because I agreed with you in my original post. My suggestion involves circumventing insurance altogether, so obviously it would have to do with the pricing games that the pharmacy plays and not the prices that the insurance company charges.

    Next time, read the post before you jump to hit that “reply” button.

  36. tklawsonpharmtech says:

    OK-Say you need a 120 day supply of Vicodin. Regular Vicodin consists of 5mg hydro,& 500mg of APAP. Vicoprofen(Knoll) is 7.5 hydro & 200mg IBU-a better choice. They won’t give you Zydone or Norco or Lorcet as it is 10mg of the CIII hydrocodone bitartrate. By far, although “high” is a compounded formulation of 15mg H.B. and 60mg of APAP (Tylenol) -120 Vicodin (5mg)is 600mg -Total 120 Caps of Cmpnd. 15mg/60mg APAP = 1,300mg H.B.cost 100.00 consult + 120.00 for the 1,300mg of hydro. FedEx 3 day. go figure.

  37. Hambriq says:

    @tklawsonpharmtech:

    …This comment is nearly incomprehensible. What are you trying to say?