If you’ve ever had strep throat, suffered through a UTI, or developed an ear or eye infection, chances are you’ve taken an antibiotic.
These prescription medications help fight bacterial infections and can even save lives.
Unfortunately, antibiotics can also be costly for those who are uninsured.
While generic azithromycin costs about $32 for those who are uninsured, the brand name Zithromax costs about $73.
If you’re one of the approximately 8.5% of Americans without insurance, you’re in the right place.
In this article, we’ll discuss which illnesses antibiotics can treat, how antibiotics work, how much antibiotics cost without insurance, whether you can purchase antibiotics over the counter, and how to help lower the cost of your antibiotics, with or without insurance coverage.
Illnesses That Can Be Treated by Antibiotics
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, including:
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Strep throat
- Ear infections
- Eye infections
- Sinus infections
Our bodies interact with various types of good and bad bacteria every day.
The bacteria that can cause harm are often called pathogenic bacteria and account for around 1% of all bacteria.
Pathogenic bacteria can cause an array of different conditions, from mild to severe.
Some bacterial infections are contagious and can be spread through air, food, water, and bodily contact.
Because antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, these conditions must be treated using over-the-counter drugs.
Time, fluids, rest, and occasionally antiviral medication may also help treat viruses.
Like bacterial infections, viruses are often contagious and can be spread from person to person.
People may also develop bacterial infections after being infected by a virus.
These are known as secondary bacterial infections, and include sinus infections and ear infections.
How do antibiotics work?
Antibiotics work to treat bacterial infections, not viruses.
They are designed to either kill pathogenic bacteria or prevent them from multiplying.
Antibiotics come in different forms—including tablets, ointments, capsules, liquids, and creams—and work by attacking the cellular wall of the pathogenic bacteria, killing the pathogenic bacteria by preventing protein production, or keeping the pathogenic bacteria from multiplying.
Some antibiotics are specialized and work on only certain types of bacteria.
Others, called broad-spectrum antibiotics, work on many of the bacteria in the body, both good and bad.
It’s essential to take the right type of antibiotic for your condition to ensure the medication doesn’t cause harm.
Unfortunately, some bacterial infections cannot be treated with antibiotics.
This is often due to antibiotic resistance, meaning the bacteria are unable to be killed or stopped by certain antibiotics.
This resistance is often thought to be due to antibiotic misuse or overuse.
Common Antibiotics Prices Without Insurance
Though there are a multitude of different antibiotics on the market, some are more common than others because they treat more common conditions and illnesses and are more accessible.
Below is approximately what you can expect to pay for common antibiotics if you do not have insurance and are instead paying the usual and customary price (the cash price assigned to a drug by the pharmacy).
Prices are based on averages found on drugs.com and will vary by pharmacy location.
|Generic Drug Name||Typically Used to Treat||Generic Drug Price||Brand Name Drug||Brand Name Drug Price||Dosage|
|Amoxicillin||Pneumonia; bronchitis; infections of the nose, ear, eye, throat, and urinary tract||$10 for four capsules||n/a||n/a||500 mg|
|Cephalexin||Pneumonia; infections of the bone, skin, ears, genitals, and urinary tract||$11 for four capsules||Keflex||$63 for 20 capsules||500 mg|
|Doxycycline||Pneumonia; rosacea; acne; infections of the lymphatic, intestinal, genitals, and urinary systems||$13 for two tablets||Mondoxyne NL||$52 for 60 capsules||100 mg|
|Azithromycin||Bronchitis; pneumonia; sexually transmitted diseases; infections of the ears, lungs, sinuses, skin, throat, and reproductive organs||$32 for three tablets||Zithromax||$73 for 18 tablets||500mg|
|Levofloxacin||Pneumonia; bronchitis; infections of the kidney, prostate, urinary tract, sinuses, and skin||$18 for three tablets||Levaquin||$27 for one tablet||500mg|
Can You Buy Antibiotics OTC?
Most antibiotics cannot be purchased over the counter; instead, they must be prescribed by a healthcare provider.
Antibiotics can be purchased without health insurance, however, they’re often more costly than if you have an insurance plan that includes prescription coverage.
Tips for Lowering the Cost of Antibiotics
While antibiotics can be costly when paying out of pocket, you can take action to reduce the cost.
Consider the following steps for prescription savings:
- Choose generic medications: After being prescribed an antibiotic (or any other type of drug), talk to your provider or pharmacist about taking the generic version. These drugs are equal to their brand name counterparts in strength, quality, safety, and effectiveness. Yet they typically have a significantly lower price because there is more competition in the marketplace.
- Shop around: Several websites can help you determine which pharmacy in your area sells your prescription for the lowest price. Other websites can tell you if you can get your prescription cheaper from a licensed online pharmacy. Many of these websites, such as goodrx.com or RxSaver, also share any available coupons to use at your local pharmacy for the prescription.
- Enroll in discount programs: Some states have prescription drug assistance programs, while others offer subsidized medications and discount programs for those who are not insured or do not qualify for other government programs. You can also search for “Rx discount cards”, which you can use to reduce the total cost of your prescription.
Choose K Health: K Health is a great option for those who are insured or uninsured.
You can book either a one-time visit with a board-certified clinician for $35, or get unlimited visits for $49 a month, with no extra fees or strings attached.
K Health clinicians can offer medical advice, determine if you need an antibiotic, prescribe it, and even ship it to you.
Or if you want to fill the prescription at your pharmacy, K Health helps make it cheaper by giving an Rx discount card to save you up to 80%.
Lastly, K Health is FSA- and HSA-compatible, has no deductibles or copays, and saves you on transportation costs.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Bacterial vs. Viral Infections: How Do They Differ? (2020).
The End of Antibiotics? (n.d.).
Generic Drug Facts. (2018).
Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2018. (2019).
State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs. (2016).
What Are Antibiotics And How Do They Work? (n.d.).