How to Talk to Your Doctor About Prescription Costs

5 questions to help you start a conversation with your doctor about the price of your prescriptions

An illustration of a prescription bottle and bill getting in the way of a doctor and patient.

Let’s face it, the doctor’s office can be an intimidating place.

If you find yourself clamming up when it’s time to talk costs, you’re not alone. A recent poll found that only 6 percent of patients learned the cost of their prescription while still in the doctor’s office. Most people didn’t find out until they were at the pharmacy to fill it.[1]

The cost of your prescription may seem like something your doctor should bring up. But they likely won’t, for the simple reason that they don’t often know the price. The same poll found that even though 80 percent of doctors are concerned about their patients’ ability to afford the treatments they’re prescribing, those doctors only talked about drug costs with around three out of every 10 patients.

So, it’s up to you to ask cost questions before you head out the doctor’s door. Even if doctors don’t know the cost of your prescription, they could still help you find more affordable options.

Asking questions about how much your prescription will cost seems challenging, but by advocating for yourself with a few pointed questions, you could save yourself the headache when you get to the pharmacy — and maybe even save some money.

We recommend coming to your doctor’s visit prepared. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of questions and talking points for an easy start.

Only 6% of patients learned the cost of their prescription while still in the doctor’s office.[1]

Question 1: Is a generic version of this drug available?

A generic version of a brand-name medication has the same active ingredients as the brand name drug and comes in the same strength of concentration. The key difference? The generic is often the less expensive of the two.

Suggested conversation starter

“I’ve read that generic drugs, whether bought with insurance or without, often cost patients less money. Do I have any generic choices for this medication?

“If so, I know the active ingredients between the generic and brand drug are the same, but their inactive ingredients often differ. Are there any inactive ingredients in the generic I could be sensitive to or that present different side effects?”

Learn more about the difference between brand and generic medications.

Question 2: What can I do if insurance doesn’t cover my medication?

If your insurance doesn’t cover your medication, you have options. Your doctor can tell you if there are any manufacturer patient-assistance programs or alternative medications that might be more likely to be covered by your insurance. Or they could go over your choices for asking your insurer for an exception.

Suggested conversation starter

“I know there are coupons and discount programs for buying medications without insurance. And I know that sometimes it’s even better to buy a prescription without insurance, even when the medication is covered.

“But I’m curious about the choices I have if insurance doesn’t cover this prescription.”

Question 3: Do you know which pharmacy in our area offers this drug at the lowest price?

Though your doctor might not know the exact price you’ll pay for the prescription, they’ll have a good understanding of the local landscape of pharmacies and may be able to offer some insight.[2]

Suggested conversation starter

“I’ve been reading about prescription costs and I learned that prices for a drug can vary by pharmacy and even by day.

“Even if you don’t know exactly who offers the best price, can you help me find out how to shop for the lowest price?

“Do you have any ideas for where to look for deals? What about any samples of this drug I could start with while I research how to get the best price?”

Question 4: What are the consequences of not taking this medication as instructed?

Research suggests sticker shock is the main reason patients abandon medication at the pharmacy.[2] When patients forgo their prescription because they’re surprised by how much it costs, they run the risk of worse health outcomes down the line.

Suggested conversation starter

“I know patients sometimes stop taking their medications when they can’t afford them. If this drug at this dosage is too expensive for me, what are my options for when I start taking the medication?

“Are there dangers of rationing this drug to make it last longer, or any severe health consequences to not taking this drug at all?”

Question 5: How should I store my medication?

This information can be found on your prescription’s label, but it’s always helpful to understand why medicine should be stored a certain way. Following storage directions helps make sure it works as well as it can, for as long as it can. In other words, taking care of your medicine helps it take care of you.

Suggested conversation starter

“I consider this medication an investment in my health, so I don’t want to waste any of the meds. What should I know about storing my medications?

“For example, I’ve read that bathrooms and kitchen counters aren’t good places to store certain drugs. Is this medication sensitive to temperature or light, or does it have any specific storage requirements?”

What should you know before getting to the pharmacy? Read our staff pharmacists’ inside tips.

Learn More

Jackie Mantey is an award-winning journalist and copywriter based in Chicago. Jackie has written and edited for a wide range of industries and clients, including Express, Thomson Reuters UK, Adobe XD, Cornell and many more.

Jeremy Slagle is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Columbus, Ohio. With more than 25 years of experience, Jeremy has worked with clients such as Nickelodeon, Bath & Body Works, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Wired Magazine and more.

This article was last updated May 19, 2020

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