I recently ran across on article on saving money when you buy prescription drugs by Dr. Edward Jardini, author of How to Save on Prescription Drugs: Twenty Cost-Saving Methods. There are a number of good tips, so I thought I’d recap them here along with some thoughts of my own (as well as a bonus tip at the end).
Ask for a cheaper alternative
Asking for a generic equivalent is probably the easiest way to save money on your prescriptions. In many cases, generics cost less than 10% of name brand drugs. Even if generics are not available, there may be a less expensive alternatives that do the same thing. Do a bit of research beforehand and then ask your doctor. Also, if you have more than one option, be sure to check if one is favored over the others by your prescription insurance (i.e., check your plan’s “formulary list”).
Split your pills
This is one that my Mom does all the time. Most prescription drugs are sold in a variety of dosages, with higher dosages selling at a discount in per unit terms (e.g., a 100 mg tablet will cost less than twice the price of a 50 mg tablet). Ask your doctor about the possibility of getting a prescription for half-tablet doses. You can pick up a pill-splitting device at most pharmacies. But keep in mind that this strategy won’t work for everything — e.g., gel caps and extended release tablets can’t be split.
Decline free samples
As counter-intuitive as this tip sounds, drug makers typically supply doctors with expensive new drugs. If the free samples represent the start of a long course of treatment, you might be better of with another (cheaper) drug that doesn’t have free samples. Of course, if they give you enough free samples to complete your course of treatment, you’re in the clear. Otherwise, think twice before jumping at what appears to be a generous offer.
Apply for patient-assistance programs.
Many major pharmaceutical companies have programs for supplying drugs for free to patients who can’t afford them. In fact, I’ve recently seem numerous commercials for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which is a free program backed by the major pharmaceutical companies. Aside from that, I don’t know much about it, but it’s certainly worth checking out. Also note that veterans may qualify for low-cost prescriptions through the VA.
Don’t ask for advertised drugs
Pharmaceutical companies have increasingly turned to marketing their produces directly to consumers. Unfortunately, that means that you may wind up asking for drugs that are more expensive, or perhaps not even necessary, when you visit the doctor’s office. In fact, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients who asked their doctor about a particular anti-depressant by name were more than five times more likely to walk out of their doctor’s office with a prescription than those who didn’t.
Don’t use insurance for low cost drugs
Some insurance plans require a minimum copay no matter how cheap a drug is, so… You might wind up paying (say) $10 for a drug that would otherwise cost $5. Fortunately for us, our prescription plan doesn’t do this – rather, if the price is less than the cop-ay, we get it for the actual price. I would also hope that pharmacists would catch this and advise their patients not to use their prescription coverage, but that doesn’t always happen.
You should also check out pharmacies at major retailers and grocers, as they’re increasingly offering cheap drug plans. In fact, Publix and Meijer grocery stores have started offering free prescriptions on certain antibiotics.
Get longer prescriptions
This one wasn’t actually included in the article, but I think it’s a good idea so I decided to include it… If you’re on a long term, maintenance-type drug, you should explore the possibility of getting a 90 day prescriptions (perhaps via mail order) instead of the standard 30 day prescription. In our case, we can get a 90 day prescription for about twice the price of a 30 day prescription – that’s a 33% savings, and it’s also more convenient since you don’t have to refill it as often.