Not all surprises are good, especially when that surprise means you pay more for a prescription drug you take all the time. Yet in the last 12 months, that’s exactly what happened to one third of Americans in a recent Consumer Reports poll of 1,037 adults who currently take a prescription medication. People said they paid an average of $39 above the usual cost for their prescription–and one in 10 said they paid a whopping $100 or more out-of-pocket.

Whether it’s due to shortages in the market, changing insurance coverage, or other marketplace variations, rising drug prices are an unpleasant change for the 44% of Americans who regularly take a prescription drug. And this change is often unexpected: Nearly two-thirds of those polled did not learn the cost of their prescription until they picked it up from the pharmacy. These price hikes leave consumers at the mercy of an unpredictable marketplace. And that’s particularly troublesome for those with little financial wiggle-room, or who can’t afford to compromise on life-saving medications. Even “smaller” price increases add up: those who experience price increases were more likely to cut back on day-to-day costs such as entertainment, other bills, and even groceries in order to afford their medications–24 percent even skipped their prescription altogether. “These cost hikes don’t leave people with many options: they either pay for the drug or walk away and don’t get it,” says Lisa Gill, deputy editor of Consumer Reports’ Best Buy Drugs. “Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between taking medication and going grocery shopping.”

Fortunately, dealing with these price hikes isn’t always completely out consumers’ hands. While 81 percent of respondents paid for their medication despite the price increase, there are ways to fight for a better bargain. CR provides several recommendations for ways to save on prescription drugs:

  • Patients should ask their doctors or pharmacists if lower-cost or generic options are available. And, make sure the prescribed drug is covered by insurance. If not, ask the doctor to prescribe a different drug listed on the formulary.
  • Shop around. It can pay to comparison shop. Try independents and chain pharmacies and see which one offers the best price on the drug needed.
  • Ask for the lowest price possible. Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers have found that doing so can save consumers lots of money whether or not they are paying for the prescription medication through insurance or out of pocket.

For more information and tips on choosing drugs wisely and saving money, check out CR’s new and improved Best Drugs for Less site (also available in Spanish), follow Best Buy Drugs on Twitter, and keep an eye on the #RXStickerShock hashtag.

Are your drug costs going up? Share your story with Consumer Reports so that we can fight back on rising drug costs. 

–Savannah Wood