Like almost everything else in American health care these days, insurance companies are among the primary arbiters of the price you pay. But when it comes to prescription drugs, you do not have to let them get the final word.
First, make sure you are making the most of the money-saving opportunities your insurance company offers. Many offer substantial discounts if you agree to receive your prescription by mail. That also saves you the cost of those monthly trips to the drug store.
If you find yourself facing a large deductible for your medication, don't just accept it. Some insurers have been known to budge on the cost with a certification from the doctor that the medication is the only treatment available for your particular condition.
And if all of that fails, Gill has a suggestion that seems counterintuitive but often works. She says you could save money by purchasing the medicine without insurance.
"The insurance company may charge you more than the retail price that the pharmacy offers," Gill said. "The real problem is that a pharmacist may not be able to tell you that their retail price is lower and that's because of something called a gag clause ... by contract they're not allowed to give you the lowest price unless you ask. So you have to say, 'What's the lowest possible price you can offer if I didn't use my insurance?' And that can sometimes unlock a much better deal."
If you have tried everything here and still find yourself stuck, don't stop. Shop. Drug prices are not uniform — even in your own neighborhood.
"We can see from national secret shopper surveys that we've done that drug prices can vary within the same ZIP code dramatically, and it can be jaw-dropping," Gill said. "For example, we have seen generic Lipitor in certain places like Dallas, Seattle, Denver, Raleigh, North Carolina, where we have made phone calls, you can see that you can get generic Lipitor sometimes for as little as $8 or you can spend over $140 at another store and that is within the same area."
There are comparison-shopping websites that can help you find the best price but be careful. Some can take you to internet pharmacies where the quality of the product may not be what it seems. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy offers a directory of online pharmacies that meet its exacting standards.
There is also such a thing as coupon clipping when it comes to prescription drugs. Check with the drug's manufacturer.
"If the medication is very high cost, the manufacturer of that drug may offer a coupon, or even a patient assistance program at their website," Gill said. "It is worth trying to contact the manufacturing company to see if they offer anything. Many companies do."
"Pharma bro" Shkreli's company was not one of those that showed much interest in giving patients a break.
While he claimed he planned to use the revenue from the price increase on his drug Daraprim to develop safer alternatives, there was no evidence his company ever tried. Besides, doctors said there was not any need for an alternative.
Yet Shkreli, appearing on CNBC at the height of the controversy, seemed to suggest he was being magnanimous in not raising the price even higher.
"At this price Daraprim is still actually on the low end of what orphan drugs cost," Shrkeli said.
While most pharmaceutical executives are not so ruthless, Gill says it only takes a few big price increases to hit the bottom lines of insurance companies, who pass their costs on to pharmacies, who pass the price on to us.
"There is an effect on the entire system," Gill said.
See how the feds finally wiped that smirk off Martin Shkreli's face. Or did they? Watch the all new season premiere of "American Greed," Monday, Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. ET/PT only on CNBC.