Studies have shown that as many as one in five older patients with chronic health problems are cutting back on their medications simply because they cost too much, according to John Piette, Ph.D., a senior research scientist and professor at the University of Michigan. "Prescription drug costs are a very big problem for Americans, especially for those who are elderly or have chronic medical problems," Piette says.

Despite the costs, many people get into the routine of going to the same pharmacy every month to have prescriptions filled, typically because it is the closest and most convenient option. But driving a mile or two down the road could save you hundreds of dollars each month. That is because the price of drugs varies according to the pharmacy providing them, and in some cases, the difference can be significant.

Take, for example, 84-year-old Margaret. Every month she goes to the same pharmacy, less than a mile from her home, to have her prescriptions filled. compared prices between her pharmacy and two others, all within three miles of each other. Results showed that if Margaret were to drive a mile further down the road, she could save nearly $200 per month on her monthly prescriptions.

Here are the results of the pharmacy comparison:

Levoxyl, 50 mg$41.95$35.13$14.00
Lisinopril, 30 mg$81.95$22.64$44.49
Atacand, 32 mg$279.95$235.12$255.49
Sular, 10 mg$196.95$194.93$209.49
Toprol-XL, 50 mg$94.95$63.53$81.99
Nortriptylin, 10 mg$27.95$10.00$14.00
Warfarin, 3mg$58.95$32.51$51.49

*Pricing is per 100 tablets.
*Note: Your health insurance plan, Medicaid, Medicare or Medigap may pay for some or all prescription drugs costs. Check with your provider for more detailed coverage information.

Prices varied at these pharmacies by as much as 35 percent. Even with gas prices factored in, it is well worth the drive to take advantage of the extra savings.

Because pharmacies compete with each other, they often run special promotions that can save consumers even more. For example, Target and Wal-Mart both have $4 generic prescription programs in all their U.S. locations. Each store offers over 300 different drugs for $4 per prescription fill or refill, up to a 30-day supply.

In addition, Piette says, "There are a lot of new drugs out there to keep patients healthy, but more than half of patients don't tell their physician or nurse when they stop taking a medication. They're not only risking their health, but they're also missing out on real opportunities to get help finding cheaper medications or programs that can assist them with costs," he says.

Doing your homework and working with your physician to manage prescription medication costs can result in substantial savings and could mean the difference between whether or not a patient gets the treatement they need. It is also important to weigh the benefits of having one pharmacist manage all the medications a person takes versus driving to different pharmacies to avoid dangerous drug interactions.

Helpful Resources

State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs
21 states and one territory offer assistance with paying drug costs. Find out if your state has a program.

Nationwide Non-Profit Prescription Drug Assistance Programs

Browse Our Free Senior Care Guides

RX Assist
RxAssist offers a comprehensive database of patient assistance programs as well as news and articles.

RX Hope
Research government and corporate sponsored patient assistance programs for over 1000 medications.

Together Rx Access
A savings card for people who are not eligible for Medicare and have no prescription drug coverage.

PS Card
A discount drug card that is free and accepted at 53,000 pharmacies nationwide.

The Cost Containment Research Institute
A free, downloadable book (also available via mail) titled "Free and Low-Cost Prescription Drugs" includes 103 free and low-cost programs and 1,104 drug listings.