With our nation still mired in a deep recession, many of us are
having a tough time paying for prescription drugs—especially those for
chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. In fact, a Consumer Reports
survey last year found that 28 percent of Americans have taken drastic
steps to cut costs, like not filling their prescriptions, skipping
dosages, and cutting pills in half without getting their doctor's OK.
There are, however, far safer approaches for saving money on
prescription medications. Try these five strategies.
1. Don't assume new drugs are superior. Prescription
drugs aren't like software and cellphones. Newer versions aren't
necessarily better and may occasionally be inferior to older and less
expensive pills. While prescription Clarinex for seasonal allergiesis more expensive than over-the-counter Claritin, studies suggest it's no more effective. And prescription Nexium is certainly a pricey way to treat acid reflux when most heartburn sufferers can get substantial relief from cheaper, generic omeprazole. I also remember how excited doctors were about Vioxx for arthritis pain;
we quickly switched patients away from ibuprofen, since Vioxx was
thought to be easier on the stomach, but later regretted it when Vioxx
was withdrawn from the market after being linked to heart attacks and strokes.
2. Avoid your doctor's sample closet. Most
family practices have a "sample closet" stocked with freebies of
brand-name prescription drugs for common conditions from high blood
pressure and diabetes to asthma and allergies. When I was in training,
I often gave financially-strapped patients who were starting a new
medication a month's supply of samples instead of a prescription.
Although it seemed like a money-saving idea at the time, it wasn't long
before the samples ran out and my patients were left with the choice of
paying for an expensive medication or switching to a less expensive
drug they hadn't tried before. In fact, a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine
found that practices that distributed free drug samples ultimately cost
their patients an average of $7 more per prescription each month than
practices that did not give out samples.
3. Go generic when possible. When
your doctor suggests that you need a new medication, ask if it's
possible to prescribe a less costly or generic alternative that might
be equally effective for your particular condition. Many pharmacies and
discount chains offer a month's supply of generic medications for $4 or
a 90-day supply for $10. If you're taking more than one medication for
a condition, like high blood pressure, you might be able to cut costs
by getting a generic pill that combines the two medications.
4. Ask about drug discount plans.
If you don't have insurance coverage for prescription drugs, some
pharmaceutical companies, as well as local and state government
agencies, offer sizeable discounts on frequently prescribed medications
for people who meet certain financial requirements. (Here are more details on the Together Rx Access program offered by drug companies.)
5. Buy in bulk. If you've been
taking a medication for three months or more, consider buying several
months' supply in bulk via mail order. The Pharmacy Checker
website provides a useful tool for comparing drug prices among
reputable online pharmacies. Patients should check with their doctors
before going this route, just in case their doctor is planning to make
alterations in dosing or frequency.