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The Complete Guide to Never Overpaying for Prescriptions

March 1, 2021

high drug prices

A comment we frequently hear from our customers is that they had no idea how much they were overpaying for their prescriptions. Even people who have a copay (say, $50.00) are very often able to find their medications cheaper through NorthWestPharmacy.com.

This is understandable — after all, when most Americans get a prescription, they're simply going to the nearest pharmacy to have it filled. They pay what they're told to pay, and they never bother questioning the price.

But that's not how it has to work. You can save money on your prescriptions — and you don't have to overpay. Here's what you need to know to never overpay for prescriptions.

Are You Overpaying for Your Prescriptions?

The way the system is designed automatically favors insurance companies. They charge you whatever they want, all while encouraging you to take care of yourself better so that you cost them less money.

When you do see a practitioner, regardless of the severity of your illness, they'll pay the practitioner far less than what they're charging (which is a cycle in and of itself — the practitioners charge more because the insurance company will keep low-balling them), and then they'll bill you for whatever your portion of the service is. Of course, the lower your premiums, the higher your portion will be, given that they don't want to spend money on you.

Furthermore, price structures are nowhere near transparent. It's difficult to find out what something in the healthcare system will cost you ahead of time, and once that something has been done, you can't exactly tell them you won't pay the bill.

Mercifully, one of the more transparent prices available is prescription drugs. You should be able to figure out how much any given medication will cost you, especially if you're planning to pay cash and not go through an insurance company. You can also look online for prices at various pharmacies, whether they're online only or brick and mortar.

Here's the complete guide to never overpaying for prescriptions.

Do Your Research

Just like any other product, a bit of due diligence can have a positive effect on what you'll pay and how satisfied you are in the end. Whether you're in the market for a new winter coat, a new car, or a new computer, doing your research ahead of time will better prepare you for what you can expect, how much you might have to pay, and how much wiggle room you'll have in that final price.

While you won't be able to haggle for a better price on a winter coat like you might be able to on a car, you might be able to find the same coat (or one very similar to it) cheaper elsewhere. The same goes for a car — one dealership might be selling the car for less than another, or might be offering different incentives, like higher trade-in value on your old car, or an extended warranty included.

Prescriptions aren't any different in this regard. The price at your local pharmacy might be different than the price at a big box store that includes a pharmacy, which might be different from the price you can find through the pharmacy benefit manager that your insurance company uses for mail orders.

Taking a bit of time to figure out how much each pharmacy (or online pharmacy) is charging for your prescription will be worth your while. You may find that putting in a little bit more effort (like driving to a pharmacy a couple miles further away) could save you a significant amount of money. You may even find that there are cheaper solutions online — but you're going to have to do the research yourself.

NorthWestPharmacy.com makes it easy to see how much medications cost on our website. If you want to know how much something costs, simply look it up. Transparency is important to us.

It's important to note that prescription medications can vary in price over time. For that reason, you should be checking medication prices on a routine basis.

A good time to research prescription drug prices is after the first of the year, when new insurance plans are in place and new prices have been set based on projections. The other time this is important is when you are switching health insurance plans — both before and after.

While it seems tedious and frustrating, it's a good idea to make sure you know what you'll be expected to pay for medication, and then once you have the plan in place, you can shop around to determine where you can buy it at the cheapest price.

Ask For the Cash Price

In the U.S., for years there was something called a "gag order" that prevented pharmacists from telling their customers if they could get their drugs cheaper by paying for them outright, as opposed to going through their insurance company. If there were publicly available coupons, the pharmacist could tell their customers about that – but they couldn't tell their customers if they'd pay less by not using their insurance.

Luckily, a law was passed in 2018 that got rid of this practice. This means that pharmacists are now allowed to share lower drug prices with their customers. There is, however, a catch: while they can share drug prices with you, you have to ask them first. They still can't volunteer that information before you ask for it.

Of course, this leads to another question: what price was your pharmacist quoting you before for your drugs? And what's the difference between that and the "cash price"?

When you have to pay for a drug at the pharmacy, you are paying a pre-negotiated price agreed upon by your pharmacy and the drug company (or more accurately, the pharmacy and a PBN, or a pharmacy benefits manager). When you are asking for a cash price, you are asking for how much the drug would cost if you side-stepped your insurance company.

You would assume that the insurance company price would be cheaper. However, this is often not the case. You might be paying more for your drugs if you're going through your insurance, because the price they negotiated with your pharmacy is more expensive than if your pharmacy would've just bought the drug wholesale.

The insurance company – or more specifically, the PBN – makes money off of this, which is why they do it.

While it might sound strange that your pharmacist would make such a deal with an insurance company, the reality is that they're forced to: if they don't take the deal, then that particular insurance won't be accepted at the pharmacy, which will prevent them from getting business in the future.

When you ask for the "cash price," what you're really asking for is how much it will cost if you purchase the drug directly from the pharmacy with no insurance company involvement. In this case, the pharmacist is allowed to give you their price for the drug (which is based on how cheap they can get the drug wholesale).

Often, simply by asking for a cash price, you can save hundreds of dollars.

While this won't always be the case (and often, even the cash price will be far too expensive), it is always worth asking your pharmacist.

Check Out Online Canadian Pharmacies

Before deciding on where to buy a prescription, it's important to check international online pharmacies (especially Canadian pharmacies).

Because of regulations in place, nearly every country has lower drug prices than the United States does. This means that often, it's dramatically cheaper to order your drugs from an online pharmacy outside of the USA.

The full answer for why prescriptions are cheaper in Canada than in the U.S. is a complicated one, but the bottom line is that the U.S. government doesn't put any kind of price restriction on what pharmaceutical companies can charge U.S. residents. But Canada (and basically every other industrialized country) does.

The laissez faire approach to prescription prices in the United States is often argued to not have done the American people any favors. As a result, many Americans have begun to look outside their borders for more affordable medication.

If you've never looked into purchasing medication online, it can be a bit overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. At NorthWestPharmacy.com, we do our best to make things as easy and seamless as possible.

To get you started, we have a search bar at the top of our website where you can type in the name of the drug you're searching for, or the active ingredient in any medication. If we carry it, your options will populate quickly. By clicking each option, you'll get pricing and dosage information, as well as whether or not we have access to a generic version.

The key differences between the drugs you'd buy at your local pharmacy and the ones you'd buy from an international online pharmacy (including an online Canadian pharmacy) are the packaging and the price. In fact, we're so committed to providing the lowest price to our customers that we offer a price guarantee. If you can find your medication at a cheaper price elsewhere at a legitimate online Canadian pharmacy, tell us and we'll beat it.

Getting Started with an International or Canadian Online Pharmacy

Purchasing from an Canadian online pharmacy for the first time can be a nerve-racking experience, but it doesn't have to be.

In order to help ease any concerns you have, we've spent a fair amount of time putting together resources for you, such as special feature articles that go into detail regarding specific drugs and other relevant matters, how-to-order pages, and a frequently asked questions page.

Another aspect of our business that we're particularly proud of is our call center. We're available seven days a week to answer any questions you may have — no matter how big or small. We completely understand the anxiety that comes along with healthcare discussions and decisions. We just want to help you feel more comfortable, and if a phone call will do that, we're more than happy to provide that service for you.

Believe it or not, our customer service representatives enjoy talking to our customers. They're knowledgeable about our products and procedures, in addition to the fact that they're dedicated to their jobs.

If you're ready to place an order, but have questions, or would simply like someone to walk you through the process, we'd love to help you. Please feel free to contact us today. Sometimes it just feels nice to have someone on the phone with you — it's such a simple thing that can assuage a concerned patient.

Our toll-free number is 1-866-539-5330, but if you're catching us in our off-hours, you can always email us. We'll get back to you promptly.

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