Why You Should Always Ask Your Pharmacist the Price of Your Prescription Without Insurance

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Budget-conscious people tend to try hard to save money on cell phone plans, streaming (or cable) and groceries.

But there’s a huge opportunity that you may be missing: saving on prescription costs.

Did you know that you can often save money filling your prescriptions just by asking how much your medicine will cost without insurance? That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently reminded everyone.

Consider Buying Your Prescriptions Without Your Health Insurance

Asking a simple question or two can save you money on prescription costs.

A Clark listener recently discovered that at the pharmacy, which she shared on the June 22 podcast episode.

Wrote Sara in Wisconsin: “This is a friendly money-saving reminder. I recently went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. Through health insurance it was going to cost me $48, so I asked what the price would be without health insurance. Only $20!

“Always take the time to ask if there is a price difference at the pharmacy.”

Sara uncovered a dirty secret of American medicine that Clark mentions regularly. You should always ask your pharmacist what your prescription will cost if you pay for it without insurance. Because many times it’s cheaper that way.

Another way to ask: Is there a less expensive generic version of this medication?

That isn’t logical, but it’s true. I’ll explain why later in the article.

“I want to thank you for reinforcing this, Sara. This is something you’ve got to know,” Clark says.

“If you have employer-provided health insurance, or a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) plan … what goes on with prescriptions is a dirty, dirty, rotten, ugly underbelly of health coverage in the United States.”

What Are Pharmacy Benefit Managers and How Do They Work?

You may have noticed that drugs at places like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens are often really expensive. Why is that?

In most cases, people blame the pharmacies or the insurance companies. The real culprit, though, are PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers). PBMs serve as middlemen between insurance companies and drug manufacturers.


More specifically, PBMs negotiate with the manufacturers of brand-name medications. Then they negotiate with your insurance company to only offer the brand-name version of the medication (instead of the generic version).

The opaque business model involves what Clark considers “kickbacks,” often labeled as rebates and discounts. And with a profit-minded middleman, there are even more corporate mouths to feed when you fill your prescription.

“So there are these kickbacks that for some reason are allowed in the United States. And what’s the some reason? Because our Congress does not care about you and me. Your individual Congressmen, your two Senators, do not care about you and me. They only care about who gives them money,” Clark says.

Generic versions of brand-name drugs exist for approximately 80% of prescriptions in the United States, Clark says. That’s why you have to ask if there’s a generic version available when you fill your prescriptions.

“I fill my prescriptions at Costco. And when I go to fill it, I say, ‘Please fill it without using my prescription benefit.’ And almost always it’s much cheaper for me just to pay Costco’s member price for a prescription than what’s offered to me through work,” Clark says.

“And that’s because the pharmacy benefits manager, in that case, is cut out of getting all their dirty money kickbacks from the pharmaceutical manufacturer.”

Other Ways To Save on Prescription Medications

Mark Cuban came on Clark’s podcast last year to explain his new prescription business called Cost Plus Drugs.

The entire business model is based on counteracting PBMs by offering generic brand medications at steep discounts and with transparent pricing.

My family has purchased from Cost Plus Drugs. We’ve saved major money on some prescriptions buying through their website.

Team Clark recently updated our story on 10 ways to save on prescription drugs. Here are a few:

  • Use apps such as GoodRx to comparison shop.
  • Shop at Costco like Clark does.
  • Buy your prescription drugs from another country like Canada. But be careful and do your research first.
  • Check for rebates.

Final Thoughts

In case you didn’t know already, you can fight to avoid expensive price tags on prescription medications.

The easiest way? Ask the pharmacist how much the generic version of the drug will cost you.

If you’re interested in saving on your monthly budget, finding ways to pay less for the medication you need can help.

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