Looking Beyond Generics to Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

It’s no secret that Americans love their medications. Got a minor health issue? The doctor has a pill for that. Combine those people with the fact that seniors are living longer, but not necessarily better and you’ve got a recipe for a well medicated America. So it should come as no surprise that the CDC says it’s not uncommon for Americans to be on five or more medications.

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That’s a lot of pills.

Filling one prescription can be expensive. But filling five or more? Now that can get downright pricey. In fact it can be so pricey that it leaves some people with the choice of paying their bills or filling their monthly scripts.

That’s a scary place to be. And unfortunately one that I know a bit about.

Years ago my own grandmother was faced with this choice. She was on a host of medications for diabetes, emphysema, cholesterol and pain management. It got to the point where she couldn’t afford to get refills for all her meds as well as pay all her monthly bills. She was too proud to ask for help so she stopped taking her diabetes medication and wound up in the hospital. It was only afterwards that her children found out what choice she had made and stepped in to help her with the costs.

Skipping medications can be disastrous and oftentimes deadly. I don’t want you to ever get to the point where my grandmother got. There are ways to rein in the cost of prescription drugs so that you don’t ever have to make a decision like this.

First off, if you have a smartphone go to the App store and look for Apps that can help you save money on your medications. Try out goodrx.com. It compares drug prices at pharmacies in your area. Or check out lowestmd.com, Prespription Saver app, and OTC plus app. All of these are useful price comparison tools you can use to find the lowest price possible for your medication. And make no mistake there will be a difference in what you pay depending on where you buy from. CVS charges different prices than Walgreens and so on down the line for all pharmacies. Compare before you buy.

If comparison shopping isn’t saving you enough money, tell your doctor about your dilemma. He or she may not know the exact costs of the prescriptions they dispense, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to help out.

It may not be the easiest conversation to have with your doctor, but believe me he is better off knowing about your dilemma. He will probably be able to come up with a solution that you never thought of. You won’t be the first patient he’s helped out pricewise and you certainly won’t be the last.

It’s likely that one of the solutions your doctor may propose to you is pill splitting. This cuts your medication costs by extending the amount of time between refills. Your doctor may write you a prescription for a higher dose pill than you’ve previously been taking, then advising you to only take half the pill at a time. Higher dosage pills don’t cost more, but they certainly can help you save money by only having to refill your medication half as many times as you were.

Of course this solution won’t work for everybody. Time-release or coated capsules can’t be split.

Another solution your doctor might suggest is to compare prices of formulations. Insurance companies set prices they are willing to pay for all drugs. Depending on your particular insurer you may be on a medication that they do not pay out as much for. Ask your doctor to write your script for the top three medications that will work for your ailment. For example if you need cholesterol medication your doctor might write down Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor – all three of which treat high cholesterol. This way you can check with your insurer to find out the copayment on each and find the pharmacy in your area that offers the lowest price for that particular drug (hint: use your new smartphone App to find the lowest price). The more options you have, the more chances you have to save money on prescription drug costs.

You also might be able to find coupons for your medications. Pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their drugs and some of that promotion comes in the form of coupons and discounts. Oftentimes you’ll see offers for a free 30 day trial. If you aren’t getting mail from drug companies already go to their websites and sign up for their communiques. You need to get on their mailing lists in order to get the coupons.

You can also likely find discounts and coupons in magazines. Stop glossing over those advertisements and really look at them, you might just find a coupon you never realized was there! You can also go online and search for coupons at sites such as optimizerx.com or internetdrugcoupons.com.

Your doctor also likely has free samples of popular drugs in his office. Ask for a 10 to 14 day supply so you can try out a new medication before committing. I’m sure this has happened to you…you try a new medication only to find out the side effects are too much for you to take so your doctor switches you to another medication. But you’ve already bought a bottle of the first medication and it will just sit in your medicine cabinet unused, as an example of wasted money. Stop this waste, by asking for a free sample from your doctor before committing to the new medication. This will only be a short term savings, but every bit helps.

A longer term savings move can be to review your Part D plan. I know this won’t be fun, in fact it will probably be a bit stressful for you, but reviewing your Medicare Part D plan options every year during open enrollment can save you a bundle.

The next time you review your plan options don’t make the premium and deductible your main deciding factors in choosing one plan over another. Instead compare plans based on total costs. Factor in the prices for each medication you take in each plan and compare which plan is the cheapest. You might just find yourself switching plans and saving yourself thousands of dollars a year—an amount well worth the effort of going through your Medicare paperwork.

Truthfully the worst thing you can do is stop taking your medication. In reality you’ll probably cost yourself more because your health will decline. If you end up in the emergency room or hospital you’ll just add on more costs to your already strained budget. Try out one of the fixes above and most certainly let your doctor know. He or she may come up with a solution you never knew existed.

Good luck!

Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson


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