The mortar and pestle, one of the internationally recognized symbols to represent the pharmacy profession (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you think you’re spending a lot of money on prescription drugs, you’re probably right. In 2008, American patients and insurance companies spent more than $234 billion on prescriptions, up from $40 million in 1990. According to a study by the University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health, spending on medicines was rising rapidly in Australia. This was in line with trends in most other industrialised countries; however, spending in Australia was fourth highest among comparable countries – spending on publicly subsidised medicines by Australian patients increased from $16 per person in 1971 to $62 (which when adjusted for inflation equals $134) in 2007. Only Finland, Denmark and Poland ranked higher.So, any way for us to save money on this money drain?
5 Good Ways to Save Money on Medicine
1. Ask About Generic Options
“In most cases, generic drugs can save a great deal of money,” says Corey Sawaya, RPh, a pharmacist in Stow, Ohio. Almost 80% of FDA-approved drugs have generic alternatives that cost an average of four times less than the brand-name versions.
2. Look Into Splitting Higher-Dose Pills
Pill splitting is based on the fact that many pills cost about the same even if they contain twice as much medication. An 80 mg pill is often close in price to a pill with 40 mg of the same drug. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medication is safe for pill splitting. If so, ask your doctor to prescribe twice the dosage you really need, so you can split your pills in half.
Be aware, many pills are not safe to split, including time-released drugs, coated pills, and capsules, says Richard Sagall, MD, president and co-founder of NeedyMeds, a non-profit organization in Gloucester, Mass, that provides information about financial assistance programs for prescription drugs.
“The best person to ask whether it’s safe to split a pill is the pharmacist,” he says.
3. Talk Openly With Your Doctor
Your health care provider may not know how much you’re paying for the drugs he or she prescribes. “Patients should talk with their doctors so they can consider less expensive options,” says Sawaya. It also helps to review all your medications with your health care provider from time to time. If you’ve been taking a drug for a long time, it’s possible you no longer need it or could switch to something cheaper.
4. Shop Around
“Prices at pharmacies are fluid,” says Sagall, who recommends negotiating with your pharmacist. If one pharmacy has the best prices in town on all but one of the medications you’re taking, let the pharmacist know and see if she can give you a discount or price match on that one drug. “Many pharmacies want relationships. They want to keep you as a patient, and this is one way they do it,” says Sagall.
5. Look Into Patient Assistance Programs
Many pharmaceutical companies have programs that provide their drugs at deep discounts or even free for people in need. If you have a prescription for a high-cost drug, check out the company’s web site to see if they offer assistance. You can also look up patient assistance programs on the NeedyMeds website , which provides information on almost 6,000 programs.
5 Bad Ways to Try to Cut Drug Costs
1. Do NOT Use a Friend’s Medicine Cabinet
“Taking other people’s medications is a really bad way to save money,” says Sagall. The drugs you find in your friend’s stash may be expired, may be the wrong dose, and may react with something else you’re taking. Plus, taking someone else’s prescriptions is illegal. “There are usually specific reasons why a doctor prescribes pill A and not pill B to their patient,” says Sagall.
2. Do NOT Insist on Brand Name Drugs
In the old days, drug companies sent information to physicians, who then decided what drugs to prescribe to their patients. Now television and magazine ads use images of active grandparents or amorous couples to promote prescription drugs directly to patients. No matter how attractive the models, the advertised drug may not be the best match for your particular condition. And there’s probably a less expensive alternative to the drug advertised on TV.
3. Do NOT Assume Herbal Supplements Are Safe or Adequate
Because they’re natural, it’s easy to equate herbal supplements with a green, leafy salad. In fact, herbal supplements are not regulated like medications, and some could pose a real danger. “Some of the herbals have the same drug interactions and possibility of adverse reactions as prescription medicines,” says Sawaya. “Those things need to be monitored by a doctor.”
4. Do NOT Keep Switching Pharmacies
You might switch pharmacies to get a better deal, but doing so repeatedly undermines the checks and balances meant to protect your safety. The history of your prescriptions creates a profile of your health in a pharmacy’s computer system. Pharmacy computers are programmed to catch errors such as potential drug interactions so the pharmacist can intervene. “If you’re moving around from pharmacy to pharmacy, the computer system is less likely to catch things like that,” says Sawaya.
5. Do NOT Buy Drugs from “Rogue” Internet Pharmacies
Online sales of counterfeit prescription drugs is a booming global business. By operating under the radar, groups posing as legitimate pharmacies get away with selling fake drugs, expired drugs, or the wrong drug in the name of a buck.
Officials are starting to come down hard on counterfeit drug operations. In 2011, the U.S. and 80 other countries launched a worldwide operation targeting rogue Internet pharmacies. Within 10 days, almost 13,500 web sites were shut down and 2.4 million illegal and counterfeit pills from 48 countries were confiscated. This is good news for consumers, but don’t let down your guard too soon. It’s safe to assume rogue pharmacies will be online for some time to come.
(As you might remember, in my financial desperation, I ordered Lyrica from a Canadian pharmaceutical company – so far, all seems to be going well. I checked with my doctor and pharmacist prior to starting the ‘imported’ product and let Mommy know, in case weird things began to happen. They haven’t (YET)!)
Website Lets You Shop and Compare Prescription Drugs (fox4kc.com)