The Cost Of Prescription Drugs Without Insurance

Prescription drugs are expensive, especially if you’re paying for them without the help of a health insurance plan.
By Cassy Van Eeden
Updated Dec 4, 2022
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Prescription drugs are medications doctors suggest you regularly take to manage the impact of chronic health conditions. 

These medications require a subscription because they are substances that, if not used responsibly, can have negative effects or become addictive.

To receive your prescription drugs, you would need a prescription in the form of a formal note from your doctor that you hand over to a pharmacist. You don’t need a health insurance plan to get prescription medication. 

Around 50% of Americans take one prescription drug every day. The most popular drugs on the market range from $13 to $98, so it’s no wonder Americans spend an average of $1,200 per year on prescription medication.

A recent report found that 3.5 million Americans aged 65 and older struggle to afford their  prescription medication. 

A CBS news report says that 18 million people couldn’t afford their prescription medication in 2019.

When people can’t afford the cost of regularly filling their prescriptions, they are likely to skip one or more doses, which is bad for their health.

Although there are prescription discount cards available to Americans to help reduce the cost of their medication, the rising cost of prescription drugs makes it hard for people to afford their medications.

Remember -

  • A prescription discount card gives you lower prices on drugs.

  • This discount only applies when you buy medication using cash.

  • There is no cost to use these cards, and they are available even if you aren’t on health insurance.

  • You would need to show your card to a pharmacist, who will use the code on your card rather than your insurance information to process your prescription drugs.

  • PolicyScout’s Rx discount card, for example, can be used at 35,000 pharmacies nationwide, and you can save up to $95 on each prescription.

Here is an example of a prescription discount card offered by GoodRx:

Rx card

source: goodrx

How Much Do Prescription Drugs Cost?

If you’re wondering exactly how much prescription medication costs these days, here is a breakdown of what you would pay out of your own pocket for some of the most popular prescribed drugs if you don’t have health insurance.

Below we have put together an example of prescription drug costs.

Prescription DrugBrand NamePrimary UseAverage Cost
AmoxicillinAmoxil, TrimoxAntibiotic$10.32
MetforminGlucophage, RiometDiabetes$16.19
PrednisoneDeltasone, OrasoneInflammation$9.69
IbuprofenAdvil, MotrinPain$11.09
SertralineZoloft, LustralAntidepressant$37.62
HydrochlorothiazideApo-Hydro, MicrozideDiuretic$8.18

Sources: GoodRX and Visual Capitalist.

As you can see in the table above, regularly prescribed medications are very expensive. 

If you aren’t on a health insurance plan, you will have to pay these prices out of your own pocket. For this reason, it’s understandable that many Americans can’t afford their prescription drugs.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Prescription Drugs

There are a few things that affect the prices of prescription medications, including:

  • Which pharmacy you choose.

  • How long you have been on the medication.

  • If you choose a brand name or generic drug option. 

Where you get your prescription filled

A recent Consumer Reports survey found that where you buy your prescription drugs affects how much you pay for them. Drug prices can be 10 times more expensive between different local pharmacies.

For example, an asthma drug brand called Singulair can cost anything from $15 to $140 in just one neighborhood.

A pharmacy is a company selling a product. Just like any other business, they have to think about their running costs, such as paying rent and salaries. They also have to consider how much they pay pharmaceutical companies for their products.

If you’re looking to find the best price for your prescription medication, it’s best to do some research and phone a few of your local pharmacies to find out what they charge. 

You can also use a website like GoodRx to find the average prices of prescription medications. 

How long you’ve been taking the prescription drugs

Something else that impacts the price you will pay for prescription drugs without a health insurance plan, is how long you have been taking the medication.

It follows that the longer you need to take a prescription medication, the more money you will pay out of your own pocket over time. 

The dosage you are prescribed

The amount of the prescription medication you take will also affect how much you pay for it. 

For example, if you’re taking a 10mg daily dosage of a medication, it should generally cost less than a 40mg daily dosage. 

Also, if you need to take pills three times a day, this will cost you more than if you were to take it once daily, as you will need to buy three times more pills.

Brand name vs. generic drugs

The last thing that has a big impact on how much you generally pay for your prescription drugs is whether you choose a brand-name or generic version of the drug.

Generic drugs cost much less than most brand-name drugs, but generic medications usually work just as well as the brand-name version.

For example, a brand-name antidepressant called Zoloft usually costs around $416. But a generic version called Sertraline can cost as little as $11.

You may be wondering why there is such a big difference between the two. This comes down to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.

Terms you need to know -

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a government agency that is responsible for making sure that medications are safe and effective to use. They decide on regulations that apply to certain medications.

The FDA must approve a medication before it starts being sold to people. When a prescription medication is approved, the pharmaceutical company gets a patent for the drug. 

This means only they can sell the drug. When their patent expires, other pharmaceutical companies can make their own version of the medication, which is typically much cheaper.

You may notice a few differences between generic and brand name prescription drugs, including their:

  • Shape.

  • Color.

  • Packaging.

  • Flavor.

  • Active and inactive ingredients.

However, these differences don’t make the generic drug any less effective than the brand name version. 

Unless your doctor tells you that you must take the brand-name version of a drug, you can ask your pharmacist for the generic one to save money.

How to Pay for Prescriptions without Insurance

Now that you know just how expensive prescription drugs can be, we would like to share some advice on how you can pay less for your medication without insurance.

Prescription assistance programs

These programs help make prescription medication available at a more affordable price. 

They are created by pharmaceutical companies to offer free or discounted prescription drugs to people who need them. 

To qualify for these programs, you need to apply and meet the criteria such as a low income, and you would need to be a U.S. citizen. 

Community ealth centers or clinics

The cheapest way to get prescription medication and medical assistance without insurance, is to visit your local clinic or health center. Clinics and health centers are funded by the government, which means you don’t have to pay to visit them for health care.

You can use this link to find a clinic or health center near you. 

Work with your pharmacist

The best place to get advice about saving on medication costs is by speaking to a pharmacist at your local pharmacy. 

If you let them look at your list of medications, they can usually help find ways that you can save money, such as taking the generic version of a drug.

Ask for a 90-day supply

Usually, a doctor or health care provider will give you a prescription for a 30-day supply of your medication. But, if you ask for a 90-day supply, you may save money.

A study by Gallup and West Health has found that buying medications on a 90-day prescription can save you a lot of money. But you need to remember that this is only possible if you are prescribed medication for a long time.

Prescription discount cards

As we’ve discussed earlier, you can get a prescription discount card from various companies to help you save money on your prescription drugs.

A company that offers a prescription discount card has negotiated a lower price for certain drugs with some pharmacies.

If you visit a pharmacy that your prescription discount card covers, you may be able to get your medications at a lower price. 

Prescription discount cards cover both brand-name and generic versions of drugs. They are the right choice if you are unable to afford health insurance.

To use your prescription discount card, you would need to show your card to the pharmacist. They will then process your medication prescription using the discount information on the card.

Some prescription discount cards come in the form of a digital card, where you would have the card stored on your smartphone.

Here is what ScripSave WellRx’s digital prescription discount card looks like:

ScriptSave App

source: scripsave

Drug Manufacturer Discounts

If the prescription medication you are taking is a name brand or doesn’t have a generic version yet, you can often get discounts from the drug manufacturer.

You will need to meet certain requirements to be able to use a manufacturer coupon, like having a low income.

Sometimes, only people of a certain age or location qualify for manufacturer discounts.

Your pharmacist should be able to help you find drug manufacturer discounts, or you can search the Web to see if there are savings programs available for the medications you take. 

These manufacturer coupons can give you a discount on the total cost of your prescription drugs.

Here is an example of a drug manufacturer coupon

drug manufacturer coupon:

Most drug manufacturer discounts can’t be used if you are covered by the government’s Medicare or Medicaid.

How Prescription Costs Are Determined

When a pharmaceutical company develops a new drug, they have to pay a large amount of money for testing and research. 

Once they start selling the new drug, it has a patent right of 20 years to make back the money they’ve spent. While this is in place, the pharmaceutical company may set the price of the drug higher so that they can still make a profit. 

There are also other factors that affect the price of prescription drugs.

Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs)

PBMs work for health insurance companies. They negotiate discounts on the price of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies on the condition that they cover the drug under their insurance plans.

In other words, the pharmaceutical company may give health insurance providers a discount on medication if the provider promises to cover the drug in their plans.

These agreements are typically of a business insider-nature, so the public never really gets to know if these savings will reach health insurance plan members.

Health insurance companies

The medication price often depends on how much health insurance companies cover for a particular medication. 

Health insurers determine how much their members pay for drugs and will often make decisions based on what is best for their profit margin.

Key Takeaways

Prescription medication is expensive and can sometimes cost as much as $100 for one month’s supply. 

The price of medication can vary depending on whether you purchase the brand name or the generic version of the drug.

If you do not have health insurance, there are options available to make buying your prescription medications more affordably by using prescription drug discount cards, manufacturer coupons, and by comparing prices using online tools.

At PolicyScout, we offer our own prescription drug discount card that gives you discount on prescription drug prices across 35,000 pharmacies nationwide.

 Visit our website to sign up for free and reduce the amount you pay for prescription medications. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a prescription discount card?

A prescription discount card is a card offered by different companies that gives you a discount on your prescription medication. 

These companies have negotiated lower prices for prescription drugs with certain pharmacies. If you present your card at one of their covered pharmacies, you can get a discount on most medications.

Visit this link to find what discounts you can get on prescription drugs using the PolicyScout prescription discount card. 

Do you need insurance to get a prescription?

No, you can get prescription medication without insurance. You would receive a prescription from a doctor or health care provider even if you are not on health insurance. Sometimes, medication is cheaper if you buy it without insurance.

How can I find out how much my prescription will cost?

The costs of prescription drugs differ from one pharmacy to the next and from one location to another. 

The best way to find out how much your prescription medication will cost is to phone the pharmacy you want to visit.

You can also use online tools like GoodRx to find the average costs of prescription drugs.