Don't Be Seduced By Discounts On Brand-Name Drugs

Nearly 19 million Americans took advantage of a coupon or manufacturer’s discount on prescriptions last year. But what many of those people may not have known is that, while they did pay less for brand name pills, they could have gotten a generic for even less.

Drug companies have been offering more of these discounts — everything from deep discounts to several weeks’ worth of free samples — in recent years as patients’ insurance co-pays have skyrocketed.

But our corporate cohorts at Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs found many examples where the discount doesn’t even come close to the low cost of comparable generics. For instance, you can get up to $60/month off (after a $20 co-pay) on diabetes drug Actos, there are three other low-cost generic medications (metformin, glimepiride, glipizide) that not only work as well as or better than Actos but are available for as little as $4 through most chain pharmacies’ discount generic programs.

And just like coupons on non-drug items, manufacturers are hoping to rope you in with discounts at the start so that you’ll stick around when the price goes up.

For example, Crestor has a savings program that applies to 12 prescriptions filled within a 14-month time frame. Once you’re done with that, you’re back to paying the full co-pay.

So if you’re taking medication for a chronic condition and think a coupon or discount program might actually save you money, be sure to check that your insurance will cover the brand-name drug.

“Co-pays for generics are often much lower — sometimes as little as 1/10th the cost–than those for brand-name drugs,” explains Consumer Reports. “Before starting on a brand-name drug, ask your doctor and/or pharmacist about comparable generics. It could save you hundreds of dollars or more a year.”

And if you do choose to try out a drug coupon, make sure you’re getting it from a legitimate source like your doctor or the manufacturer’s website. There are numerous sites offering prescription discounts that appear to be from the manufacturer but could be flat-out fakes or only available through a limited number of insurers or pharmacies.

ConsumerReports.org has a chart of the discount programs available for many widely used brand name drugs, along with suggested generic options.