Before heading to the pharmacy, more and more people are heading online to snag a coupon. Many big-name drugs are offering coupons and other discounts. Almost 19 million people who regularly take medication used a drug coupon last year, according to a Consumer Reports survey. But that's not necessarily a good deal.
"Just because a brand-name drug is available with a coupon doesn't mean it's your least-expensive option," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. "Less-expensive generics may be available that are equally effective."
And insurance co-pays for generics are often much lower, sometimes one-tenth the cost.
Then there's Lipitor, whose money-saving offer is being heavily advertised. Consumer Reports says for people already taking Lipitor, the co-pay card can be a real money-saver, at least for now.
"There is a generic for Lipitor, but at this point it's just about as expensive," said Santa. "So if you qualify for the $4 Lipitor program, it's a good deal."
But as with many drug coupons, you don't qualify if you are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or other federal or state healthcare programs.
"For people without insurance, it's possible to use many of these coupons. But you're still going to pay a lot of money out of pocket," said Santa.
The best way to save on prescriptions is to see if your doctor can prescribe a less-expensive medicine.
Consumer Reports says you can get discounts on many generic prescription drugs at Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and other big retailers and supermarkets.