One of the driving forces behind rising health care costs is the increasingly high cost of prescription drugs.
And because 60% of Americans take at least one prescription drug, that adds up to a lot of money.
Insurance companies are trying to rein in costs by having tiered copayments (higher for brand names) or limiting the selection of drugs on their formularies (the list of drugs your insurance will cover).
This post gives you some suggestions to save money, and some resources that might be helpful.
But first, ask yourself and your physician if a prescription drug is really necessary. Ask if there are lifestyle changes you can try first.
Many conditions, such as insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, high serum cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, acid reflux, sleep apnea, headaches, back pain and more can be helped with a change in diet, more exercise, and counseling or cognitive behavior therapy.
1. Ask for a generic
Most insurance companies offer a low copay ($10-$20) for generic drugs. If your plan doesn’t offer prescription copays (most HSA plans don’t) or you don’t have insurance, generics are still usually cheaper than brand name.
But not always! I like the website GoodRx. It not only gives you average prices for pharmacies in your zip code, but it tells you if there is a generic equivalent for your prescription. Then you can do your own price comparisons.
Many chain pharmacies offer low-cost generics at $4 for a 30-day supply, or $10 for a 90-day supply. Some pharmacies require a membership or club card, but others don’t. Kroger and Wal-Mart are two that don’t charge an extra fee.
I like generics not only because the price is typically lower, but they are older drugs with a more well known safety record.
Related post: Protect yourself from new prescription drugs
2. Use a mail-order pharmacy
Many insurance companies will give you a price break if you buy a 90-day supply of your prescription through their mail-order pharmacy.
If you don’t have insurance, try Wal-Mart’s $4 generic prescriptions. My husband gets a 90-day supply of his levothyroxine from them. It’s mailed directly to us and at $10 for 3 months, it costs less than if we used our insurance drug coverage!
You don’t even need to have a Wal-Mart in your neighborhood; your physician can send the pharmacy an e-prescription.
3. Buy two drugs instead of one
This might not make sense, but many newer drugs are actually just combinations of two older drugs. (It’s a tricky way for drug companies to extend their profits after a drug goes generic!) For example, Caduet is a brand drug that costs about $200 for a 30-day supply, even though it’s a combo of 2 inexpensive generics, amlopidine (for high blood pressure) and atorvastatin (for cholesterol) that can be bought for less than $50.
Related post: A less expensive option for Diclegis
Sometimes a combination drug is actually more effective than its individual parts. Or a patient might not want to bother taking two pills instead of one. Talk to your physician about your options regarding combo drugs.
4. Use a pill splitter
Often a higher-dose tablet costs that same as the lower dose, so you can save 50% immediately by getting the larger dose and cutting it in half. (Of course, this won’t work for every dose, just those divisible by 2.)
A pill splitter can be bought cheaply at the pharmacy, or your pharmacist might just give you one for free.
But check with the pharmacist first to make sure the drug is “splittable.” Capsules usually can’t be split.
And although splitting tablets used to be a common practice and drug makers even had the tablets scored for easier splitting, I see more new meds in weird triangular shapes so they can’t be split. Maddening.
5. Buy over-the-counter
Prescription drugs can sometimes be available on the shelf at your drugstore at a much lower cost.
For example, the heartburn drugs Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Zantac and Tagamet are all available over-the-counter.
Related post: Nexium – Brand, generic, prescription or OTC?
So are the common allergy drugs Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec.
The expensive prescription drug Diclegis, which is used for nausea during pregnancy, is just a combination of two cheap over-the-counter medicines, doxylamine (an antihistamine) and vitamin B6 (See hint #4).
But, depending on your insurance and your copay, it might still be cheaper to get the prescription version of the drug. Do the math!
Many people might advise asking your physician for free samples of a drug. I don’t suggest this because the samples are always for the newest and most expensive name-brand drugs. The drug companies provide these to the doctors’ office because they know if you start taking a brand-name drug and it works, you will be unlikely to change to a cheaper generic version. It’s smart marketing, disguised as generosity.
If for whatever reason you do choose a name-brand, really expensive drug, most pharmaceutical companies have patient-assistance programs. These are usually only for patients without insurance.
- Partnership for Prescription Assistance
- Rx Assist
- Merck Helps
- AstraZeneca AZ & Me Prescription Savings Programs
- Pfizer Rx Pathways
- Novartis Patient Assistance Now
- GlaxoSmithKline GSK For You
- …and more!
It’s tough to find savings now that even generics are skyrocketing in price. Taking time to talk to your physician, pharmacist and insurance company about your options, and doing some online research and a little math can help you save.