At the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, we regularly talk to...
7 ways to cut your medicine costs
Good health is something we all value – you can’t really put a price on it. Well, that’s what people say, but it’s not entirely true.
In 2014, illness was listed as the fourth biggest reason our clients gave for getting into debt. There can be lots of financial consequences of falling ill, like having to take time off work, make alternative travel or childcare arrangements, or shell out money on prescriptions.
Whether you have a long-term or short-term illness, getting sick can have a huge impact on your finances, especially if you’re already living to a strict budget.
The good news is that there are ways to help lower the costs associated with illness, and in some cases even get rid of them completely. Why cough up more than you need to?!
1. Get free prescriptions
If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, your prescriptions will already be free of charge (lucky you!). But if you live in England there’s still a charge – £8.20 per medicine at the time of writing.
However some people don’t have to pay for their prescriptions. You’re entitled to free medicines if…
- You’re under the age of 16 or over the age of 60
- You’re aged 16-18 and are in full-time education
- You’re pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months (and have a Maternity Exemption certificate)
- You or your partner receive Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, or Universal Credit
- You have a war pension exemption certificate
- You have a specified medical condition (such as epilepsy, diabetes or cancer) and have a valid Medical Exemption certificate
- You’re an NHS inpatient
If you can get your prescriptions for free, just fill in the back of the form when you go to the pharmacist.
NB: You should always be honest about your circumstances when filling in the prescription form. A false declaration could lead to a fine and prosecution.
2. Pre-pay for your prescriptions and save
If you can’t get free prescriptions but take a prescription medicine regularly, you might find the cost soon racks up. A pre-paid prescription certificate is kind of like a season ticket to the pharmaceutical world, which is much less appealing than a season ticket to see your favourite football team but could save you a decent amount of money over time.
A three month certificate costs £29.10 and a yearly certificate costs £104, which means if you regularly buy two prescription medicines per month, the certificate could save you more than £90 over the year. If you usually get more than three prescription medicines per month, the certificate could save you as much as £191 a year.
Application forms are available in some pharmacies, or you can apply online.
3. Could you get it cheaper?
If you’re prescribed a common medicine, it can be worth checking to see whether you can buy it over the counter, as this can work out more cheaply than paying for a prescription. This can often be the case for painkillers or dermatological creams, as I’ve learnt the hard way in the past!
4. Get non-prescription meds for free
You might have read on social media recently that there’s a scheme that could help you and your family access free medicines. Some NHS pharmacies have a minor ailment scheme, which means you can get medicines for certain conditions for free! It could save you money on treatments from coughs and colds to diarrhoea and head lice. The scheme work differently depending on where in the UK you live though.
In England it’s open to people who are eligible for free prescriptions, or who have a prescription pre-payment certificate (PPC). Not every NHS pharmacy runs the ailment scheme, but you can check to see if it’s offered near you on the NHS website. In some parts England, if you’re registered with a doctor and meet the eligibility criteria, you can just turn up at the pharmacy. In other parts of England, you might need to get a certificate from your doctor before going to the pharmacy.
Prescriptions are free in other countries in the UK, so there are different rules around who is eligible. In Scotland, the scheme is open to children, people aged 16 to 19 in full-time education, people over the age of 60, people with a medical exemption certificate, and people on certain benefits. You can find out more in this document from NHS Scotland (pdf).
In Wales and Northern Ireland provision of the scheme varies, so it’s best to check with your local pharmacy.
5. Take advantage of free jabs
One way to save money on healthcare costs is to take advantage of free vaccinations that could prevent you from getting sick. The NHS offers a range of free vaccinations for people of all ages, including children, teenagers, and those aged over 60. There are also vaccinations available to those who are pregnant, have a long-term health problem or work in certain industries. You can find out more about vaccines on the NHS website.
6. Attend a free screening!
Screening is another preventative measure you can take to avoid getting sick, and it’s free! The NHS offers eye tests for people with diabetes, breast screening, cervical screening and bowel cancer screening among others, which can help to detect illnesses earlier.
Your doctor will usually send you a letter to invite you to make a screening appointment once you reach a certain age or have been identified as at risk. However you can self-refer in some instances. You can find out more about the different types of screening available on the NHS website.
7. Stay active
Having an active lifestyle can vastly improve your physical and mental health. I realise that I’m stating the obvious here, but it’s a message that’s worth repeating.
This isn’t about going out and running a marathon or hiking up a mountain (although go for it if that’s your bag!). It’s about making small changes to our daily habits that can improve your fitness.
It doesn’t have to be a chore! Walking to work, taking up a team sport, or finding exercise that you find relaxing or releases tension can all make it seem less hard work. Our blogpost about apps that help you get fit for free is as good a place as any to start!
For more thrifty tips straight to your inbox, sign up for our monthly money-saving newsletter.