Don’t Let Them Scare Grandma

President Obama charged congress with creating a health care coverage plan for all Americans by the end of the year.

So we wait… and wait… for our government to churn out a health care coverage plan that is both fiscally responsible and adequate for all. Who knows how long it will take for the government to get it right. While we sit on the sidelines and other countries are scratching their heads.

Did you know that ALL other industrialized nations including Canada, Australia, the U.K., Spain and Italy already provide universal health care coverage?

Does that make you want to run for the border?

Well regardless of which side you’re on in the universal health care debate our government hasn’t decided to pick up the tab just yet.

If you are the one in five that has had to skip doses of prescribed medication because you can’t afford it or are one of the millions who have had to cut back on essentials to pay for your prescriptions than I urge you to read my prescription drug cost cutting tips.

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Below are 4 of the biggest ways to save money when paying for prescription medication

1.    Ask about generics.

It’s as simple as “Hey Doc, is there a generic version of this drug you prescribed me?”

Most people are aware that generic drugs are cheaper than brand name prescription drugs. Know why?

When pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs they often spend years researching and boatloads of money developing these drugs. All of those costs need to be recouped so they set the price of their drugs sky-high and pass their costs onto you, the consumer. This works out all fine and dandy for the company as long as they are the only source for the drug.

To protect their profits from competitors, pharmaceutical companies get patents. Patents allow drug makers the exclusive manufacturing rights for 20 years or more before competitors can market generic versions of the same drug.  But after the patent expires other pharmaceutical companies can produce the same drug without having to incur the years of research and development costs thus allowing them to charge a lot less for the same drug under a different name.

A lot of times pharmaceutical companies will come out with a ‘new’ version of their drug just before the patent expires. Most of the time this ‘new’ version is just a time released version of the same drug, or it is combined with new ingredients that aren’t active in the formulation. This is all a dog and pony show to get doctors to keep prescribing the drug from their company rather than a generic drug from another company.

A lot of commonly prescribed medications come in generic form. There are generic forms of Ambien, Prozac, Soma, Xanax, and Zantac. The generic forms of these medications cost LESS THAN 10% of their brand name counterparts.

However, there are some drugs that are not available in generic form. What do you do then?

2.    Split tablets.

This is a more controversial way to save money. But there have been several studies showing that splitting tablets is safe and a feasible way to cut prescription drug costs.

Almost all prescription drugs are sold in varying dosage amounts. There might be a 10 mg dosage, a 25 mg dosage, and a 50 mg dosage of the same drug.

It’s widely understood that buying in bulk saves you money. Just look at stores that sell in bulk like Costco and Sam’s Club to understand this concept. When you buy more of a product the price per piece goes down. The same concept rings true for prescription drugs. Higher dose pills are a bigger bargain than lower dose pills. For example, a 50 mg pill will almost always cost less than twice the price of a 25 mg pill.

It should be said that this will not work for all prescription medications, including capsules, gelcaps and extended relief tablets. Ask your doctor if it’s possible to prescribe half-tablet doses of pills twice as strong as you need. For example if you take a 40 mg tablet, ask your doctor if you can split an 80 mg tablet in two and take half of the tablet.

Most doctors aren’t aware of what prescriptions cost their patients, so you might have to explain to your doctor the cost saving benefits of this practice.

Many prescription medication tablets come scored, meaning they have a line through the exact middle of the tablet. This makes it easy to tell where to split the tablet in half. Drug stores and pharmacies carry tablet-splitting devices as well. They usually run about $5-$10.

3.    Patient Assistant programs funded by the pharmaceutical companies themselves!

Free drugs! This might have been the sentence every hippie from the 1960’s was dying to hear, but it’s also possible for prescription drugs.

Almost all pharmaceutical giants offer free medications to lower income customers. Sounds unbelievable, I agree. You must be thinking this is the best kept secret about prescription medications! These offers are not publicized and therefore very few are taken advantage of.

The best part is you don’t have to be poor to qualify. I’ve heard of some companies offering free medications to people whose household income reaches $70,000 a year. Although to qualify for most of free medication offers your household income must be $40,000 or less. Not to worry though, income, not assets are used to determine need, thus allowing retirees to qualify as well!

There is no harm done if you apply and don’t qualify so why not give it a try! To find out about these patient assistant programs first figure out which pharmaceutical company manufactures the prescription drug you are taking and then go to the company’s web site or call their toll free number.  You can also visit www.pparx.org to find out more information about these programs.

4.    Buy your prescriptions from outside the U.S.

If you can’t buy generic versions of your medications look at purchasing your medications from drug companies outside the U.S.

You don’t have to look far! Our neighbor to the north, Canada, is a safe and reliable place to buy your medications from. If you’re thinking to yourself that you don’t have the money to fly to Canada every few months to fill your prescriptions don’t worry. You don’t have to leave the comfort of your house. You can order online or through the mail. And don’t worry it’s perfectly legal to fill your prescriptions from outside the U.S. It’s only illegal if you don’t have a prescription.

Be sure to price check though. Prices for prescription drugs can vary widely even when buying online. I priced out 90 tablets of 10 mg Lipitor through four Canadian based online pharmaceutical companies. There was a price swing from a high of $192.00 to a low of $114.99.

Check out a list of consumer rated, home-country licensed, pre-screened foreign pharmacies at http://www.edrugsearch.com/pharmacy-directory/ .

It should be said though that buying drugs online from a foreign country must be done ahead of time, well before you run out of your current prescription. This is not the way to go if you are in a crisis and need more now. Planning ahead can save you money!

As with any medical advice please make sure you talk to your doctor before you split your pills or try to get a generic version of any of your current medications.

With the costs of health care and prescription drugs going up every single year we need money saving ideas like these to beat the drug companies at their price gouging game.

This topic is one close to my heart since my own grandmother stopped taking her diabetes medication two years ago because she had to decide between paying her other bills and filling her prescription medication. I personally know the havoc this can wreak on a family. When my mother told me that her mother stopped taking her medication and just wanted to die, the pain in my mother’s voice was uncontrollable.

Please pass this information on to anyone who can benefit so no one else needs to choose between essentials like housing or food and filling their prescription medication.

Keeping Money In Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson


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