by Rita Cunha

Life-saving prescription drugs can be prohibitively expensive for many Americans. But an unexpected diagnosis does not have to spell financial ruin. Fortunately, there are several ways to get low-cost or even free prescription drugs.

In this in-depth guide, you will find a long list of resources you can use to save money on your healthcare expenses. From assistance programs to little-known rebates and discounts, there is a bit of everything for everyone. You may no longer need to rely on your health insurance plan to get affordable medications.

Let’s take a look at the main ways to lower—or even completely eliminate—your prescription costs.

Get Free Medications from Pharmaceutical Companies

Did you know that drug companies provide free prescription drugs to some patients? Low-income patients, or people without health insurance, often can take advantage of this perk.

How Patient Assistance Programs Work

Patient Assistance Programs (or PAPs, for short) are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. They offer expensive prescription drugs, frequently used to manage chronic conditions, to the patients most in need. For many uninsured and underinsured Americans, this is the only way to get the life-saving medication they need.

This network of programs exists because pharmaceutical companies get hefty tax breaks for each person they help afford their meds. Thus, they aren’t losing money, in the end.

How to Enroll in a PAP

You may be able to join a patient assistance program, depending on your situation and medication. Follow these steps to learn more about how to enroll.

Step 1: Do Your Own Research

The first step is finding out what drug company manufactures your prescription drugs. This should be easy enough to do. 

Then, you want to learn if that drug manufacturer sponsors any patient assistance programs. You may need to do some digging, as this information is typically not widely publicized.

Some drug manufacturers open PAPs to low-income adults living close to the poverty line. Others take a more holistic view of a person’s finances and household when determining what patients to sponsor. Since the criteria vary so much between manufacturers, it’s worth investigating a bit further.

Step 2: Check Your Eligibility

If there is a PAP available, you need to find out if you’re eligible to sign up for it. The eligibility requirements should be easy to find on the manufacturer’s website. If you can’t locate it, it’s always a good idea to call the company’s support line and ask for more information directly.

Step 3: Send In Your Application

Once you know you’re eligible, you will need to gather documents and information to send to the drug company. Then, if you truly meet all the requirements, your medication costs will be slashed to zero.

Keep in mind that you may need a note from your doctor’s office, as well as supporting evidence of your income and condition, to kick off the application process.

What Drug Companies Offer These Programs?

Most drug companies out there sponsor some type of PAP for their most expensive prescription drugs. Merck, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and other pharmaceutical giants have programs open for a variety of conditions. 

Get Help from Local and State Governments

It’s not just pharmaceutical companies that can help you cut down on medical costs. There are plenty of state-sponsored programs across the country offering prescription assistance programs.

NACo Prescription Drug Discount Cards

The National Association of Counties (NACo) gives out drug discount cards to anyone who needs them, regardless of health insurance status or income levels. These cards have no annual fee and are completely free to get. The only catch is that you must live in a county that supports these drug discount programs.

Once you get your card, you can use it to get your meds at great rates. On average, patients save at least 30% off their medicine costs. This is a great way to get low-cost prescriptions that could have been out of reach for you before.

Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D (also known as the Medicare prescription drug benefit) is a program that helps people buy their meds. It can slash your costs to nearly zero. If you are signed up for benefits under Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B, you can also be enrolled in this money-saving program.

Medicaid and CHIP

Medicaid and CHIP are two publically funded programs that help patients pay for their expensive prescription drug regimens.

You may be able to enroll in one of these programs depending on where you live and what your life situation looks like. Low-income patients, families with children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly are all eligible.

Check the enrollment requirements in your state to get access to free and low-cost medications.

Emergency Programs

On top of that, each state offers emergency programs for a variety of diseases and conditions. These run independently from drug companies and are paid for by tax dollars. This way, states can provide affordable or free medications to those most in need.

7 Retail Pharmacies Offering Free or Low-Cost Prescriptions

Pharmacy chains often run special deals on certain medications, making them very affordable or even free. The only catch is that the deals you can get on your prescription drug refill vary considerably. Meaning you might be able to pay for your meds one month and not the next.

Still, it’s worth checking out these 18 prescription deals until you find a more sustainable money-saving program.

1) Walgreens

Walgreens has a prescriptions savings club that can help you save money on your brand-name or generic medications, but it does entail an annual fee.

However, if you don’t want to pay any fees, you can use any of the dozens of Walgreens discounts and coupons that Swagbucks has to offer.

2) Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club has a prescription drug discount program for its members. You may be able to get your prescription refills for free or at a lower price. Additionally, you can get cashback on your orders from the chain’s pharmacy, thus maximizing your savings.

3) Meijer

When you visit a Meijer pharmacy, you can get certain medications for free. Right now, they are paying for certain antibiotics and prenatal vitamins. This is part of the chain’s commitment to better infant health in the Midwest.

4) ShopRite Store

ShopRite also has a prescription saving program. You can get a variety of prescription medications for as little as $3 for a 30-day supply. And the best part? You don’t need to pay a membership fee or show proof of insurance.

5) Reasor’s Foods

If you’re in Oklahoma, you can get children’s antibiotics for free at any Reasor’s Foods. Simply show your doctor’s prescription and you’re set.

6) Price Chopper

Price Chopper offers a wide variety of prescription meds for as low as $10 for a 30-day supply. Additionally, they also offer diabetes medications and supplies for free or for a low retail price to their customers.

7) Costco

As long as you have a Costco membership, you can get access to discounted brand-name and generic drugs. The chain offers dozens of often expensive meds at reduced prices, which can offset the $60 annual membership cost.

Additionally, Swagbucks also has several Costco coupons and discount codes you can use to take your savings to the next level.

Reach Out to Non-Profits, Charities, and Health Companies for Help

These non-profits, charities, and healthcare companies are here to help you afford the medications you need.


NeedyMeds is a comprehensive directory of prescription assistance programs. You don’t have to pay a cent to use it. Visit their website to find a savings plan that is right for you or contact them to get personalized help.

HealthWell Foundation

The HealthWell Foundation helps people whose insurance doesn’t cover all the costs of their medical conditions. If your income is up to 500% of the Federal Poverty Guideline, you can get free or low-cost prescription meds.

Uninsured patients should look for other programs, as the HealthWell Foundation only helps insured Americans.

Cancer Charities

There are other programs specifically designed for cancer patients. Because these life-saving prescription medications are often extremely expensive, cancer charities offer guidance, assistance, and free information about PAPs and free drug trials.

Look for the contact information of a cancer charity in your area and ask for help. They might just provide free medications to you.

Rx Hope

Rx Hope is an organization connecting patients to valuable prescription assistance programs. If you’re losing hope in finding affordable prescription medications, Rx Hope is the place to turn to. With their help, you could pay very little (if anything) for your drugs.

Medicine Assistance Tool

Think of the Medicine Assistance Tool (previously known as the Partnership for Prescription Assistance) as the Google of prescription meds. It’s a search engine that lets you find free or low-cost prescription drugs that your doctor ordered.

Once you’re on their website, enter the name of the drugs you need help affording. Then, enter some details about yourself. You’ll be shown the prescription assistance program that is right for you.

If All Else Fails… There Are Other Options

Some patients can’t get access to assistance programs or free medications. Fortunately, there are a few other resources worth checking out when the ones we mentioned so far fail.

Ditch Brand-Name Drugs for Generic Drugs

Generic prescription drugs are much cheaper than brand-name drugs. Yet, they’re just as effective, since the chemical formula is the same.

Nowadays, insurance plans cover many generics. Always check with your provider which drugs they cover before making a purchase.

Ask for Free Samples of Your Prescriptions

Pharmaceutical sales reps often gift free samples of prescription drug boxes to the doctors they visit. They do this to encourage physicians to prescribe their products.

If you can’t pay for the prescription, you should ask your doctor if they have a sample they could give you. While this isn’t sustainable (samples run out, after all), it can tide you over until you have a more solid program.

Tell Your Doctor You Need Help

Lastly, it is a good idea to open up to your doctor and tell them you can’t afford the meds they prescribed. It’s nothing to be ashamed about; it happens to more people than you probably imagine.

Your doctor could research prescription assistance programs for you, so that you can get your meds for free. Or they could consult other professional medical advice to find a medication that is more affordable and works the same way. It’s always worth giving this option a shot.

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