Reducing Medication Costs

Reducing Medication Costs


Here are some ways you can save money on prescription medicines.

Some health plans have their own pharmacies for their members. If you belong to one of those health plans, some of this advice may not apply to you.

  • Tell your doctor you care about cost.
    • Ask for drugs that are less expensive but that work just as well. Often a condition can be treated with one of several different medicines, and your doctor may be able to prescribe one that costs less.
    • You might ask your doctor if he or she has medicine samples, vouchers, or other resources for you, especially when you are trying out a new medicine to see whether it will work.
  • Find out how your provincial health plan or private health insurance covers medicine costs.
    • Some plan companies cover only generic medicines if they are available. With some plans, you may have to pay more for medicines that are not on the plan's list of preferred medicines (also known as a formulary). Some cover medicines that are bought only at participating pharmacies. Some plans also may not pay for certain medicines such as weight-loss and hair-growth drugs.
    • Ask the customer service representative whether your medicines are covered, whether you need to buy at certain pharmacies, and what your copayment is. Many plans also list this information on their websites.
    • If you have a choice between plans, check what your copayment for prescription drugs will be, the maximum amount the plan will pay in a year, and other details. Choose the plan that best suits your needs.
    • When you buy medicines, find out which payment option will be the least expensive. Some things to consider include:
      • Whether there is a generic version of a preferred medicine and whether an over-the-counter equivalent costs less than your copayment.
      • Bring a copy of your plan's list of preferred prescription drugs to your next doctor appointment. And keep the list with your chart. That way, you and your doctor can see which medicines cost the least on your plan.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can take a generic equivalent for the brand-name medicine that you take now.
    • Generic medicines are less expensive copies of brand-name medicines.
    • Generic equivalents are made according to the same strict Health Canada standards as brand-name drugs. So generics have the same quality, strength, purity, and stability as their more expensive brand names.
    • Generic equivalents are not available for every brand-name medicine. If there is not an equivalent, ask your doctor if there is a similar medicine in the same class that may be less expensive or that has a generic equivalent.
  • Ask your doctor if prescription medicines are always needed.
    • There may be an over-the-counter alternative for your prescription medicine. For example, non-prescription naproxen (Aleve) is a fraction of the cost of the prescription equivalent Naprosyn. (Generic versions of over-the-counter medicines can save you even more money.) Often non-prescription equivalents of prescription medicines come in lower strengths, so get instructions from your doctor or pharmacist on how to take them.
    • In the case of antibiotics, research has found that they are not always needed. For example, up to two-thirds of people who have acute sinusitis improve on their own without antibiotic treatment.footnote 1 Your doctor might advise you to take a wait-and-see approach before you buy expensive antibiotics.
  • Shop around for the best deal on medicines.
    • The retail cost can vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy. Some pharmacies match the price that other pharmacies charge.
    • Finding a good deal is important, but be sure that your pharmacist (or pharmacists) knows your medical history, including all the medicines you take—both prescription and over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs as well as natural health products—even if you didn't get them at that pharmacy. That way he or she can provide valuable advice about any potential for drug interactions, side effects, or other problems.
    • Compare the costs of buying medicines online. Some large drugstore chains have websites that offer savings. Visit the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) site at to see a complete list of websites. Look for websites that display the NABP VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) seal, which means they meet provincial and federal requirements.
  • Ask your doctor if you can buy pills at twice the dose you need and split them.
    • Pill splitting is another strategy that can help you save money without losing drug effectiveness or safety.
    • Some tablets are available at double the dose and at the same or almost the same cost as lower doses. By splitting the larger dose, you can essentially get two doses for the price of one.
    • Many medicines should not be split, including timed-release pills and capsules.
    • Talk to your pharmacist about how to split pills with an inexpensive, easy-to-use pill splitter.
  • Buy prescriptions in bulk.
    • Ask your doctor to write a prescription for several months' supply of medicines that you take consistently. Keep in mind that your plan may limit the amount of medicine you can get at one time. Sometimes the price for a 3-month supply of medicine is less costly than if you were to pay an insurance copay each month for three months.
    • Mail-order services can often save you money on large orders. But be sure to use only trusted, reliable pharmacy websites.
    • If you are trying a medicine for the first time, don't get more than a 30-day supply. That way, if you have concerns about side effects, you can talk to your doctor about trying another medicine. And you may save money by not getting more than you needed.
  • Find out about discounts and patient assistance programs.
    • See whether the pharmaceutical company that makes your medicine has a patient assistance program. Some companies offer free or discounted drugs for people who cannot afford them.
      • These companies often require that your doctor contact them first about your case. Your doctor will need to be involved, and the application process can be complex.
      • You may need to provide documentation to verify your income.
    • Check with your provincial government to see if there is a program that may be able to help you with medicine costs. Most provinces have programs for seniors and people with disabilities or low incomes.
    • If you have a rare disease, contact the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders. This organization helps people who have rare diseases find better and more affordable access to medicines. Visit the organization's website at for more information.
    • If you are a veteran, you may qualify for prescription drug coverage through Veterans Affairs Canada. See the agency's website at for more information.



  1. Ah-See K (2015). Sinusitis (acute rhinosinusitis). BMJ Clinical Evidence. Accessed April 14, 2016.


Current as of: November 14, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine