The best ways to save money on prescription drugs
Medicines are not just for the elderly. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of millennials take at least one prescription medication. The most common prescriptions for this population are anti-anxiety medications (31%), antidepressants (20%), contraceptives (18%) and painkillers/anti-inflammatories (18%). As people age, they are more likely to take more medications. For example, one-third of adults aged 50 to 64 and more than half of adults aged 65 and over take at least four prescription medications.
Millennials spend an average of $252 a year on prescriptions, and that number increases dramatically as people age and/or get sick.
Medicare doesn’t always cover all prescription drug costs, but there are ways to save. Instead of just filling a prescription at the pharmacy with no questions asked, Chad Worz, executive director of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists in Alexandria, Va., suggests “starting by discussing alternatives with the prescriber or pharmacist. Are there generic versions of or if there is no generic for the drug in question, is there a generic for another drug in the same class that might be a viable alternative? »
How to save money on prescriptions
Prescription drug expenses can be overwhelming, but these three tips could help reduce the burden:
While these sources can be helpful, TJ Griffin, chief pharmacy officer at PharMerica, a national pharmacy provider specializing in senior care, notes that “it’s fine if you don’t have insurance because they could give you a discount. However, you cannot use them in conjunction with your insurance. Not all cards or programs offer the same discounts, so it’s important to do your homework before using any of them.
It’s okay to shop around and check mail order and various websites and services for discounts. However, Worz points out that obtaining medications from multiple sources “eliminates the safety net of having all medications filled at one pharmacy.”
For example, it is important to have a complete and up-to-date list of your medications to share with your prescriber and/or pharmacist. This will make it easier for the pharmacist to identify duplicate medications, medications that may have interactions, and other medication-related issues. At the same time, it can help reduce trips to the pharmacy and prevent refills from falling through the cracks.
Giving your healthcare provider an up-to-date list can ultimately save you money, as they will be able to identify duplicate or old prescriptions. It can also prevent what Worz calls a “prescription cascade.” This happens when a drug causes side effects that are misdiagnosed as a new problem, so another drug is prescribed to fix that problem. Ultimately, he says, “if you’re taking four drugs but can get by with two, you’re going to save money.”
Here are some additional ways to reduce drug costs:
- Check with your insurance company. Some drug plans may offer discounts on certain drugs if plan members purchase directly from the insurer instead of from a pharmacy. Specifically, this may apply to government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid.
- From time to time, especially when your condition changes, ask your pharmacist to review the medications you take, including over-the-counter products and supplements. They might be able to identify cost-cutting opportunities, such as a newly available generic for a brand name drug you’re taking.
- If you present a prescription to the pharmacist and the drug is not covered, find out why. Instead of paying out of pocket or not completing the script, be prepared to inquire. “There might be a viable alternative covered by your plan or the pharmacist and prescriber can help you get through the situation,” says Worz.
- Contact the manufacturer of the specific medication you are taking. They may have a discount program for people who cannot afford these drugs.
- Discuss with your prescribing physician possible non-pharmacological alternatives to help you manage various conditions. For example, psychotherapy can help with depression, and physiotherapy, music therapy, and breathing exercises can relieve pain. Although non-pharmacological efforts may not be a panacea or entirely effective treatment, they may allow for lower doses or shorter drug courses.
- Tell your prescriber or pharmacist about any over-the-counter products you are taking or considering. “Over-the-counter products count as additional medications on your profile,” says Worz. “While you can treat some conditions yourself, it can be confusing and sometimes counterproductive or even dangerous, depending on the prescriptions and other products you’re taking.” Worz suggests that any over-the-counter medications, such as certain vitamins or supplements, are unnecessary and only incur additional costs.
“Having a relationship of trust with someone, like your doctor or pharmacist, is key,” says Worz. By sharing your treatment goals and expectations, your healthcare provider can help you determine the best treatment for you. It’s also important that they know what your financial limits are so they can research medications or other interventions that are within your budget.
Griffin agrees, “Find a pharmacist you trust and make sure they have your full history, including the herbs, supplements, and over-the-counter products you’re taking. This is what we do. Pharmacists love when people come for a consultation.
Griffin suggests a few questions to ask each time you get a new prescription:
- Are there any special instructions on when and how I should take this medicine?
- What are the potential side effects and possible interactions with other medications or over-the-counter products I am taking?
- What is the name of this drug? Is there a generic?
- What is this medicine for and why am I being prescribed it?
- Am I going to take this medication for a short time or a long term?
While it’s not always possible currently to tell how a drug might affect a specific person, that could change, Griffin says. “An area of pharmacy called pharmacogenomics is emerging. You can take a mouth swab, and some companies can analyze how you metabolize various drugs. You can get a report that will help your doctor choose the best therapies for you.
Medicines cost money, but not taking them costs more. Skipping prescriptions, trying to stretch a pill bottle by cutting pills in half, or taking them less frequently than scheduled aren’t appropriate cost-saving measures, Griffin points out. In fact, he says, it may end up costing you more. He asks: “How much will it cost if you have to go to the emergency room or if you are hospitalized and miss two weeks of work?”
Instead of shortcuts, focus on informed decisions, healthy habits, and a good relationship with your doctor and pharmacist for cost-effective drug therapy.