Closer look at drug coupons

FRESNO, Calif.

Some co-pays now top $90 a month. That makes coupons from drug manufacturers enticing. Almost 19 million people who regularly take medication used a drug coupon last year, according to a Consumer Reports survey.

But Consumer Reports says just because a brand-name drug is available with a coupon doesn't mean it's your least expensive option. Generics may be available that are equally effective and cost far less. 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. For people already taking Lipitor, Consumer Reports says its $4 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. 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're on Medicaid, Medicare, or other federal or state health care programs.

For people without insurance, it is possible to use many drug coupons. But you're still going to pay a lot of money out of pocket.

Consumer Reports says that the best way to save on prescriptions is to see whether your doctor can prescribe a less expensive medicine. And look for discounts on many generic prescription drugs at Target, Walmart, Walgreen's, CVS, RiteAid, and other big retailers and supermarkets.

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