The cost of many leading brand-name medicines went up by nearly double digits last year, according to a new AARP survey. Here’s your antidote to higher prices.

By Walecia Konrad
Ian Dingman

Opt for mail order. Most employers’ prescription-drug plans offer access to mail-order suppliers, such as Express Scripts and Medco, but not all participants take advantage of the services. For people who regularly take medications (like birth-control pills or drugs for high cholesterol or allergies), these programs can yield substantial savings, since you get a long-term supply. A 90-day supply of some brand-name medicines can cost as much as $100 less than three separate 30-day prescriptions at the corner pharmacy. Talk to your benefits manager for more information.

Be cautious about free samples. If you take the packets of meds your doctor doles out, be aware: Freebies are often available for only the most expensive brand-name prescriptions used to treat chronic conditions. So ask your doctor if she has considered generics or a more established (and less expensive) brand-name alternative, says Jan Engle, an executive associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy.

Split your pills (as long as your doctor approves). If you’re taking 20 milligrams of a cholesterol medicine, for example, ask your general practitioner to prescribe the 40-milligram dose, then use an inexpensive pill-splitting device from the drugstore to cut each pill in half, says Engle. Most of the time, you’ll pay the same price but get double the doses. Note: This doesn’t work with gel caps, time-release medications, or capsules.

Check out assistance programs. Discounted or no-cost medicine may be available from government programs, nonprofits, and other entities. Go to the clearinghouse website of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (, where you can search by the name of the drug or the company that manufactures it. If you suffer from certain ailments, such as cancer, seek out disease-related associations (like the American Cancer Society; for additional resources.