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Tips on... Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

by Rich O'Boyle, Publisher
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There has been a lot of discussion about adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. But if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath. I began to do some research into prescription drug assistance programs managed by each of the states in the US. I started to build my own directory, but then stumbled across this outstanding resource maintained by the National Council of State Legislatures.

At least 28 states now have established or authorized some type of program to provide pharmaceutical coverage or assistance, primarily to low-income elderly or persons with disabilities who do not qualify for Medicaid. Most programs utilize state funds to subsidize a portion of the costs, usually for a defined population that meets enrollment criteria.

These state programs help people pay for the astronomical costs of prescription drugs. Unfortunately, not every state maintains a strong program. I have added the directory to the Medical Research Assistant at http://www.ec-online.net/Assistants/medresassistant.htm. You will also find a directory of pharmaceutical companies that offer assistance.

State drug assistance programs and programs managed by the drug makers themselves are two key ways to help reduce the costs of prescription drugs. You can also save money on drugs by:

- Shop around at different pharmacies for the lowest price but don’t skimp on service and personalized attention. The value of a door-to-door delivery service may be worth a few dollars each month;

- Consider a mail order prescription drug program for medications that you take over long periods of time. These can be automatically updated so that you never run out, and may also be less expensive when purchased in bulk month-to-month;

- Print off our Drug Cost Comparison Worksheet when shopping around for the best prices;

- Ask your doctor or the pharmacist if there is a lower cost generic drug available. Generic drugs are the exact same chemical as the “name brand” but cost less;

- Talk to your doctor to see if you still need to take all of the medications you have. Eliminating a drug from your regimen that is no longer useful not only saves you money, but may also eliminate side effects;

- Look into healthcare benefit discount programs offered by reputable organizations and companies. These “discount cards” often offer significant savings on drugs and other healthcare services for a modest monthly or annual fee. Make sure that you are dealing with a company you trust and check on the actual savings that they promise;

- Ask your pharmacy if they offer a senior citizen discount, or other discounts from organizations you may belong to (such as AARP). Consider all of these discounts when comparing various pharmacies.

- It may make sense to purchase different drugs from different pharmacies. Be very careful if you do this because you may add on additional hassles and potentially lose track of prescriptions.

- Ask your doctor for some “free samples” of drugs. Use your best judgment and don’t ask every time that you see him/her;

- If you have some type of prescription drug coverage, you might ask your doctor to give you a prescription version of a product that you might normally buy over-the-counter. This may be more cost effective than buying the product at the drug store.

- Split large pills into two doses: Be very cautious about doing this! Many prescription drugs actually cost the same (or very close) regardless of the dosage. So your 20mg. pill may cost the same as a 40mg. pill of the same medication. Ask your doctor if she can prescribe the larger dosage that you will then split in half before taking it. Again, be very cautious doing this. Not all medications are formulated to be split (they may have a special coating, work on a time-release, or be in capsule form). Ask the doctor and pharmacist if you can split the pill. Keep in mind that you now have an added step before giving the medication to your loved one. If you don’t think that you will remember to give the proper dosage, then don’t take the risk. If this is done properly, it can save up to 50% on the specific drug costs!

- Go South or North for savings: Here is another cost saving tip that is somewhat risky, but can provide significant savings if done properly. Drug costs are often much lower in Canada and Mexico due to trade laws and lower manufacturing costs in those countries. For years, Americans have been visiting foreign countries to buy prescription drugs that are too expensive or unavailable in the U.S.A. Americans are permitted to import a 90-day supply of approved drugs from these countries for personal use. The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Customs Service have a vague policy on the importation of unapproved and experimental drugs. Check with the Food and Drug Administration and your physician before making plans to import foreign drugs. Drugs which are subject to abuse (such as steroids, amphetamines, and some sedatives) are more tightly controlled. Always bring a copy of your doctor’s prescription with you to smooth the way back.
- http://www.fda.gov/ora/import/purchasing_medications.htm
- http://www.fda.gov/ora/import/pipinfo.htm
- http://www.customs.ustreas.gov/travel/travel.htm

There is some controversy about the safety and efficacy of non-U.S. drugs. Drugs made and sold overseas may not adhere to the same manufacturing and storage standards as in the U.S. While most drugs companies are huge multi-nationals, not all of them sell the same drugs in the same countries. Furthermore, the standards for storage and shelf-life may be different, especially if the drugs are stored in a hot place or have expired. Make sure you buy all of your prescription and non-prescription drugs from a reputable pharmacy. Some pharmacies may relabel drugs, sell expired pills, or sell counterfeit pills. Be wary of scams and don’t buy something if it doesn’t seem right.

* Read our follow-up article: New Programs for Reducing Drug Costs

Available from ElderCare Online™              www.ec-online.net              2001 Prism Innovations, Inc.

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