According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, Americans spend, on average, about $1,200 each year on prescription drugs. The most popular prescription drugs range in cost from $12.41- $97.57. However, there is a lack of price transparency when it comes to the cost of prescription drugs, making it difficult for consumers to know how much their medications will cost out of pocket.
How Much Prescription Drugs Cost
Below is a breakdown of the most popularly prescribed prescription drugs in the United States, along with the average, out-of-pocket retail cost. The costs range from $12.41- $97.57.
Popular Prescription Retail Drug Costs
|Prescription Drug||Average Retail Cost|
|Lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril)||$12.41|
|Albuterol (Accuneb, Ventolin, Proair, Proventil)||$55.05|
|Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Unithroid, Levoxyl, Levo-T, Euthyrox)||$16.49|
|Amlodipine (Norvasc, Amvaz)||$27.79|
|Hydrocodone / Acetaminophen (Zolvit, Lorcet, Vicodin, Hycet, Xodol, Norco, Lortab, Maxidone)||$97.57|
Factors that Affect the Cost of Prescription Drugs
There are a number of factors that affect the cost of prescription drugs, including generic or brand-name prescriptions, where you get your prescription filled, and how long you are on the medication.
Generic vs Brand-Name Drugs
The cost of your prescription drug will largely depend on whether you get the generic or brand-name version. Oftentimes, generic drugs will cost 85% less on average when compared to brand-name, and they offer the same benefits as the brand-name drug. While the difference in cost is steep, it simply has to do with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the regulations set in place.
Once the patent or drug exclusivity for a certain drug expires, other pharmaceutical companies are able to then develop their own version of the treatment- leading to the drug pricing becoming increasingly competitive. The FDA regulates how generic drugs are manufactured, packaged, and tested, so while your prescription might look slightly different, it will work the same way.
Below you’ll find a chart comparing brand-name medications to generic versions and the differences in costs.
Monthly Prescription Cost Comparing Brand Name vs Generic Version
Cost per month (US dollars)
Generic or non-prescription version of medicine
Cost per month (US dollars)
|Arthritis||Celebrex 200 mg||$355||Celecoxib 200 mg||$15 to 30|
|Mobic 7.5 mg||$255 to 280||Meloxicam 7.5 mg||$3 to 20|
|Naprosyn 500 mg||$95 to 205||Naproxen 500 mg||$7|
|Allergy||Claritin 10 mg (no prescription needed)||$30||Loratadine 10 mg (no prescription needed)||$6|
|Flonase 50 mcg nasal spray||Not available||Fluticasone 50 mcg nose spray (prescription needed)||$6 to 20|
|Asthma||Singulair 10 mg||$230 to 253||Montelukast 10 mg||$12 to 40|
|Depression or pain (Wellbutrin SR/bupropion SR is also used to help stop smoking)||CeleXA 20 mg||$285 to 310||Citalopram 20 mg||$3 to 10|
|Effexor XR 75 mg||$443 to 470||Venlafaxine ER 75 mg||$6 to 28|
|Pamelor 25 mg||$1100 to 1265||Nortriptyline 25 mg||$4 to 14|
|Paxil 20 mg||$195 to 215||Paroxetine 20 mg||$3 to 18|
|Wellbutrin SR 150 mg||$470||Bupropion SR 150 mg||$17 to 25|
|Zoloft 100 mg||$313||Sertraline 100 mg||$7 to 15|
|Diabetes||Glucotrol 5 mg||$94 to 106||Glipizide 5 mg||$3 to 10|
|Glucophage XR 500 mg||$66 to 73||Metformin 500 mg||$4 to 15|
The differences you may see when it comes to generic and brand-name versions include:
- Inactive ingredients
Where You Get Your Prescription Filled
A survey from Consumer Reports showed that prescription drug prices can vary by as much as 10 times between pharmacies, even if they are in the same city. In the study, secret shoppers called over 200 pharmacies in six cities to ask the prices of several generic drugs to collect this information. They discovered that a drug like Singulair, an allergy medication, can range in price from $15 to more than $140 within a single zip code.
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A variety of factors can influence how pharmacies price their drugs, such as:
- Business costs
- Profit margins
- The prices charged by pharmaceutical companies
However, these costs are usually kept confidential. The best way to find out the price of a drug is to call the pharmacy before picking it up.
There are ways to discover the lowest drug costs. You can use MiraRx to discover how much prescriptions cost at various pharmacies near you and access a coupon to get them for up to 80% off.
How Long You are Taking the Medication
If you are prescribed a drug for an extended period of time, this will cost you more money out of pocket because you will have to continue to pay for the amount of time prescribed; for some people, this may be for years.
However, below, we outline several ways you can save money on medications -- one being, asking for a 90-day prescription compared to a short time frame.
Getting Prescription Drugs Without Insurance
While prescription drugs can be expensive without insurance, there are several ways to save money:
Prescription Assistance Programs: Prescription assistance programs help patients pay for the medications at a rate they can afford. They are created by pharmaceutical companies to provide free or discounted prescriptions for those who need them. Patients usually have to apply to receive assistance.
Call different pharmacies: As stated above, you will oftentimes find that different pharmacies will offer various rates of the same prescription. Therefore, before choosing a pharmacy, you may want to call around to see which pharmacy offers the best price.
Ask for a 90-day supply: While a 30-day refill option is usually the most common, a study found that getting a 90 day supply of medication can save patients a significant amount of money. However, this option is only appropriate if you are taking maintenance medications.
Use coupons: Before purchasing your prescription, you can look around for coupons that will save you money. One way to do this is by using MiraRx, where you can look at discounts from different pharmacies in your area, and choose the best price
How Prescription Costs Are Determined
Prescription drug price negotiations are determined by pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefit managers, and health insurance companies. Below we go into detail about how each plays a role.
Pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies make and sell drugs, but don’t provide a breakdown of pricing or why costs can greatly exceed research-and-development (R&D) expenses. Some pharmaceutical companies will purchase existing drugs and still raise prices.
Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). PBMS works on behalf of health insurance companies or employers and negotiates upfront discounts on the prices of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies, as well as rebates, which reward favorable coverage of a particular drug (and the resulting increase in utilization by a health plan’s patients). These prescription drug agreements are kept secret, so it is unknown if savings ever reach the patients.
Health insurance companies. Health insurance companies are responsible for approving treatments, setting co-pays, and determine prices along with PBMs to evaluate how much patients pay for drugs. Often, they decide coverage options based on what maximizes company profits.
Since the determination of most prescription drug costs involves very little transparency toward the consumer, there are organizations working to improve this process.
Prescription Drug Costs Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Prescription drugs costs can be confusing and you may not always know how to navigate them. Below we answer several frequently asked questions.
Are prescriptions always less expensive with insurance?
Not always; and there are few reasons why your prescription will cost more using insurance:
Your insurance doesn’t cover the medication: Insurance companies may not cover all prescription drugs. You can check your insurance’s formulary to see what drugs your insurance covers and does not. A formulary is a list of generic and brand-name prescription drugs that are covered by your health plan. If the prescription isn’t covered, it may be cheaper to use a drug assistance program or a coupon.
You haven’t met your deductible: Some insurance plans don’t cover the cost of prescription drugs until you’ve met your deductible (the amount you have to pay before insurance starts paying). Therefore, you have to pay attention to see if you have met your deductible before your insurance starts paying for prescriptions.
There are high copays: If you have an insurance plan that starts paying before you reach your deductible, you will like have to pay either a copayment or coinsurance. This out-of-pocket expense will vary depending on the drugs you take. If it’s a low-cost generic drug you might have a lower deductible, but your copay might be higher if it’s a brand-name prescription drug.
How are prescriptions priced?
Due to a lack of cost transparency, it remains fairly unclear how prescription drugs are priced. However, a large factor that’s apparent in terms of determining cost, is the market for the drug. If the market (or condition being treated) already has several competing medications, a new drug will likely be sold at a competitive price.
A drug for a condition with few competitors, however, will likely be priced at a higher rate. This is due to the cost consumers will be willing to pay since there are no other treatments.
Which type of prescriptions are most expensive?
The type of prescriptions that are the most expensive or considered “breakthrough” therapies, in which they are used to treat a serious or life-threatening condition or disease. Zolgensma is the most expensive drug in the U.S. with an estimated annual cost of $2,125,000 and treats spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare disorder caused by a defective gene.
Popular prescription drugs range in cost from $12.41- $97.57 and the prices are determined based on whether you can use generic or brand-name drugs. It’s important to find an affordable way to access medications if you don’t have insurance, whether it’s by using coupons, calling pharmacies, or using MiraRx.