What to Do When You Can’t Pay for Your Prescriptions

I hope you never need a prescription drug. It’s a fair bet that we Americans take far too many prescription medications as it is. But some drugs are necessary and for some illnesses, they’re a matter of life and death. Despite the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and all manner of health insurances, some Americans still cannot afford their prescription medications.

Prescription drug prices are out of control and sometimes skyrocket overnight. Even if you have health insurance, out-of-pocket expenses can be exorbitant.

So, you need this medicine, but you can’t afford it. What now?

Start by Price Shopping

When it comes to most healthcare, comparison shopping is an almost impossible task. However, it is quite possible to comparison shop for prescription medications. I’ve done it, to great advantage.

First, ask your doctor for the generic version, if there is one. Generics are often a bargain when compared to brand names.

If you have health insurance with a co-pay based on percentage, it really pays to pick up the phone and check prices. You’d be surprised at the huge price differences from one pharmacy to another. While doing that, you’ll also want to make sure the drugstore is in your health plan’s network.

Beyond that, there are a lot of assistance programs. I know. It stinks that you have to do that and it’s a huge pain. Let’s face it. We have a hodgepodge healthcare system, so we have to work that much harder to navigate it. Still, if you put in the homework, you might come out of it with the medicine you need at a price you can afford.

Databases for Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs

Most pharmaceutical companies have assistance programs for those who can’t afford their medication. You can usually find them by visiting the drug company’s website. Or you can use one of these databases where you can look up your prescription drug by name. That will lead you to details about individual programs. From there you can read more about eligibility requirements and how to apply or get more information. Check these out:

Pharmacy Discounts & Prescription Savings Programs

Various store chains and clubs offer discount prescriptions. These are just a few:

  • AARP Prescription Discounts: Available to AARP members (there’s an annual membership fee) and their families, the discount program saves an average of 61 percent on many medications not covered by your prescription insurance or Medicare Part D plan.
  • Costco Member Prescription Program: Available to Costco members (annual membership fee) and their dependents, this card will save you between 2 and 40 percent on many prescription medications.
  • FamilyWize Prescription Savings Card: This free card covers FDA-approved prescription medications at pharmacies across the nation. In partnership with the National Council on Aging, the card is designed to get you the best price on medications not covered by Medicare Part D.
  • RxOutreach: This nonprofit, fully accredited mail-order pharmacy helps people with or without health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. If they carry your prescription and you are eligible for assistance, there are no additional enrollment or membership fees.
  • Sam’s Club Pharmacy Services: Available to Sam’s Club Plus members (annual membership fee), the card can save you 8 to 40 percent on a variety of prescriptions.

Specific Conditions and Specialty Drugs

Other organizations help people with certain medical conditions or particular therapies. Your doctor may be able to recommend other organizations that would be a good fit.

  • CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation: Helps with co-payments for chemotherapy and targeted treatment drugs for specific types of cancer, which are listed on the site.
  • Good Days: Works with healthcare providers and specialty pharmacies to provide patients with access to medication and treatments. The site lists the conditions and medications they help cover.
  • National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD): The site lists the specific conditions and drugs for which they’ll provide assistance for patients with or without health insurance.
  • Patient Access Network: Helps underinsured people with life-threatening, chronic, and rare diseases get the medications they need by paying for their out-of-pocket costs and advocating for improved access and affordability. The site lists all the medications they help cover.
  • Patient Advocate Foundation Co-Pay Relief: Provides direct financial assistance to qualified, insured patients to help pay out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions. The site lists the conditions they support.

If you’re on Medicare and have limited resources, you may be eligible for Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs.

If you can’t find the information you need online:

  • call the drug company directly to ask if they have a patient assistance program or if they can refer you to one
  • ask your doctor for recommendations
  • ask your pharmacist directly
  • if you only need meds for a short time, ask your doctor for samples

And be wary of buying medications online. For information on how to protect yourself when shopping for medication online, visit the FDA website.


Related Reading
Dangers of Buying Online Prescriptions
4 Ways to Save Money on Prescription Medications
Alarming Side Effects of 7 Popular Prescription Drugs

Image Credit: Thinkstock


John B
John B1 years ago

Thanks Ann for all the info and great links.

Fran F.
Fran F2 years ago

A very useful article, thanks.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Sometimes the manufacturer will provide them for you too. Give them a call.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Teresa Antela
Teresa Antela2 years ago


Ricky T.
Ricky T2 years ago

Thank heavens for our NHS.

Debbi -.
Debbi -2 years ago

The free pharmaceutical assistance programs and other discount cards can be a very big help. Each of us has three of those cards plus Part D insurance. Between them we do very well. It is worth a few minutes of your time signing up online for several cards and the pharmacies don't mind checking to see which will give you the best price.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

I cut back on other things so as to pay for prescriptions Australia is going down the path of the USA with our Medicare, Shame on you turnbull. Thank you for caring and sharing.