5 On Your Side

Prescription drug coupons don't always offer the most savings

Posted April 18, 2012 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated April 18, 2012 6:51 p.m. EDT

— With or without insurance, prescription drugs can be pricey. Drug manufacturers try to help prices by offering coupons for their products, but even some of those can come with a catch. 

As is the case with most medical expenses, some extra digging and examining of prices – of both prescription drugs and generic medications – is necessary. The extra research can help consumers avoid rising insurance co-pays, some of which are as much as $90 a month. 

Consumer Reports says 19 million patients used at least one drug coupon in 2011, many of them found online. Despite the initial break in price, however, the long-term savings might not add up. 

"Less expensive generics may be available that are equally effective," Consumer Reports' John Santa said. 

The insurance co-pays for generic drugs are also cheaper, sometimes a tenth the cost of their name brand counterparts. 

Lipitor is one prescription drug that advertises big savings. Consumers can get the cholesterol drug for $4 a month through the end of the year with their co-pay card. It's a limited coupon, but for someone only taking the drug for a short time, it can be a big money-saver. 

"There is a generic for Lipitor, but at this point it's just about as expensive," Santa said. "So if you qualify for the $4 Lipitor program, it's a good deal."

As with many drug coupons, consumers who use a federal health care program, like Medicaid or Medicare, don't quality. 

"For people without insurance, it's possible to use many of these coupons," Santa said. "But you're still going to pay a lot of money out of pocket." 

Consumer Reports says the best way to save on prescriptions is still to ask doctors for generic medication.