1. Health

How to Obtain Free and Low Cost Prescription Drugs

Why Stores Are Willing to Lose Money to Provide These Drugs to You

By

Updated May 19, 2014

Talk to your pharmacist to find out what drugs are drastically discounted.

Talk to your pharmacist to find out what drugs are drastically discounted.

Getty-JeffKaufman.jpg
Be aware of the long term dangers of antibiotics, even when they are free.

Be aware of the long term dangers of antibiotics, even when they are free.

Getty - JGI-Jamie Grill
Pre-natal vitamins are often used as loss leaders.

Pre-natal vitamins are often used as loss leaders.

Getty Images - Tom Grill

Free or low-cost prescription drugs are always appealing, whether you have health insurance or not. There's no sense in paying any more for a drug you need than is necessary. It's one great strategy for saving money on the drugs you need.

But as you know, stores are in business to make a profit and they are not simply providing you with free or low cost drugs out of the goodness of their hearts! Yes, there is good will involved, but they have done a good job of figuring out how they can leverage the information they gain about you when you obtain your drugs from them, against the money they lose when they provide something to you at a loss of money to them. (Remember - they have to purchase the drugs they sell to you from somewhere, too.)

Understanding how these stores benefit when they give these drugs to you will help you make better choices about doing business with them.

There are a handful of reasons why stores offer these free and low priced drugs - what they stand to gain:

  • Good will: Most of these stores are well known and appreciated in their communities because they do community-focused and customer-focused things. You'll shop there because you appreciate their recognition that you need help paying for these drugs.
     
  • Loss leaders: Loss leaders are items that large numbers of customers need, and will seek lower prices for. Milk or bread or ground beef are often loss leaders. The market prices them very low, knowing they can make up the difference because you'll buy other things when you shop there.
     
  • Future business: By offering you a very low price for one drug, they have the opportunity to entice you to move other, regular, more expensive prescriptions to their pharmacy, too. They'll make more money on the additional prescriptions. This is particularly useful to the store when they can entice families with children (thus the antibiotics and prenatal vitamins.) If they can encourage families with children to shop regularly at their stores, then their business grows by three or four or more people at one time.

  • Information: In order to take advantage of this very low pricing, you will be giving up quite a bit of personal information: your name, address, phone number, maybe your email address, plus your insurance information, and maybe your social security number. This may be done right at the pharmacy counter, or, you may already have an affinity card (one of those cards you swipe at the checkout to get discounts.) They will combine that information with other information about you to develop a profile (female, age 45, home price depending on your neighborhood which then tells them how much disposable income they think you have, general health, size of family, and much more.) That information can be sold to other companies that then use it to develop mailing lists and more.

The bottom line is that they want your business because they can profit overall from it, even if not through selling you or giving you inexpensive prescription drugs. Antibiotics, prenatal vitamins, some diabetes and generic drugs aren't large expenses to them, so they can risk that small investment to gain a customer who will return that money to them many times over.

This is a similar strategy to that used by prescription drug manufacturers who give away free samples, that can end up being more expensive for you to use over time.

Rules to Follow for Obtaining Free and Low Cost Drugs

Each of these stores has different rules and guidelines for its programs. Here are some of the standards:

  • Some require an enrollment fee.
  • They all change their formulary on a regular basis.
  • You'll need a doctor's prescription to obtain free prescription drugs.
  • Some of the stores will require a prescription for the free childrens' vitamins (which we can assume is because they can get more information from you - see above.)
  • Some offer over-the-counter drugs which may still need a prescription to qualify for this pricing.
  • Some offer limited quantities, others have end dates for their offers. You'll need to coordinate the name of the drug with your doctor's office to be sure your prescription is written for the appropriate drug.

A Note About Free Antibiotics:

Remember that overuse of antibiotics is one reason we have so many problems with superbug infections now. Had we not been taking antibiotics for every little sniffle all these years, we would not have so many deaths from hospital-acquired and other life-threatening infections. My word of advice? Ask your doctor to make the recommendation. Don't tell your doctor you need an antibiotic.

A Note about Low-Cost Generic Drugs:

Before you go looking for low-cost generic drugs, check with your insurance company (if applicable). In some cases, the cost of getting your prescription through your plan may cost less than using these resources.

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Now that you are aware of the background information you need before you make this purchase or obtain free prescription drugs, you can find a list of stores that sell and give away free and low cost drugs.

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