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Health ... Medical Care

18 tips to save on prescription drugs

by Angil Tarach, Visiting Angels, Ann Arbor

According to a report written in 2000 from Families USA they estimated seniors would spend $2810 a year in prescription drug costs, an increase of 133% from 2000 to 2010.

It’s difficult finding updated statistical information, or whether their projections were correct in 2010, but I would venture to guess it wasn’t too far off.

Many seniors are forgoing important medications due to the rising costs.

These tips may help prevent significant health consequences for those struggling to pay for medications.

  1. Physicians often have samples of a variety of drugs in their offices, given to them free of charge. Ask your physician for samples. Especially if the physician is prescribing something new and you don't know if the drug will work, or cause adverse reactions or have intolerable side effects. A previous patient of mine did just that and came home with a huge bag full!
  2. Physicians order medications without cost consideration. Their focus is treating the problem at hand with the drug they feel will work best, without thinking about cost. Newer drugs always cost more because generics are often unavailable. Ask if a generic is available for the drug they want to order. If not, ask for an alternate order for something a generic is available.
  3. Price check! The prices can vary a significant amount from pharmacy to pharmacy. If the medication is too expensive, call the physicians office and ask for a cheaper alternate drug. The pharmacists can also give you that information before you call the physicians office, so you can request a replacement order of a specific drug.
  4. Check with buying clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club. You do not need a membership to utilize the pharmacy. Just tell the person at the door checking cards that you're only using the pharmacy. As an incentive to purchase a membership these Clubs typically will offer drug discounts on some drugs with specific membership levels, only if you’re uninsured. The discount can't be used for all medications, so check with the club pharmacist about your specific medications, and see if the discounts are worth spending money on a membership. Remember you do not need a membership to utilize the pharmacy.
  5. Insurance companies allow you to refill your medications 1 week prior to being out of the current prescription. Filling prescriptions one week early will allow you to save 4-6 weeks of medications in a year if you refill monthly.
  6. Ask your physician if there is a higher dose of the medication you can split in half to save money. Check with the pharmacy on both dosages, because higher dosages may come with higher costs.
  7. Mail order: Through your insurance companies approved mail order pharmacy may be cheaper, especially if you order medications for 3 months. Again check prices.
  8. Partial Ordering: If you are prescribed a new medication you haven’t taken before and your physician doesn't have samples, see if your pharmacist will allow a partial fill of the order, until you see if the medication will work, or how you react to it. Some medications cannot be partially filled by law. This is especially true for individuals with previous sensitivities to medications. Lots of money is wasted on prescriptions that cause a reaction or intolerable side effects after a dose or two.
  9. If you do not have insurance, small independent pharmacies may have discounted prices for uninsured. Let all pharmacies know when you price check that you are uninsured.
  10. Many states now have drug discount cards for the uninsured. Price check and tell them you have the discount card. Using a drug discount card may even be less expensive than your cost with health insurance prescription coverage. Have the pharmacist check the cost using health insurance and off insurance using the discount card. You can find several discount drug card companies, or go to Free USA Drug Plan and check the cost of your medications from your local pharmacies right on the site.
  11. Drug companies offer discounted or free medications for individuals who fall below a specific amount of income. Check their individual websites for programs offered. Seniors can often qualify for these programs.
  12. Canada Drugs can fill and mail prescriptions often at prices far below US prices. A medication I was prescribed was over $1200.00 a month at CVS, $950.00 a month at Sam's Club, and $450.00 at Canada Drugs. Less than 1/2 the cost of the lowest US price I found. You can enter the drug you are inquiring about on their website and find the price right there. If you are insured, chances are your insurance company will not cover drugs from foreign pharmacies, but if you have a prescription cost limit, or need to fulfill a deductible at the beginning of the year, or are in the donut hole of Medicare, purchasing at Canada drugs may be beneficial, even without insurance covering.
  13. If you are uninsured and have regular and costly medications, shop for insurance. Now that the health reform went through you may have access to insurance you didn't have before. If you can find a plan that is only major medical with the option for a prescription rider, you could end up insured and saving money.
  14. If you set up a Health Savings Account (HSA) prior to being a Medicare beneficiary you can spend the money contributed to an HSA prior to enrollment in Medicare. Medicare beneficiaries are not elligible to open an account.
  15. Check your state government website for a list of programs, or discounts available for low income patients, children and seniors. They often have a list of government and nongovernmental healthcare options and choices that may reduce healthcare costs, particularly for the uninsured.
  16. Utilize a bank credit or debit card that offers points for purchases, to pay for prescriptions. My debit card collects purchase points that I can exchange for products, travel, services, Visa gift cards, and cash deposits into my checking account. Utilizing the card for prescriptions as well as other products, and services can result in a few hundred dollars in merchandise, gift cards, or cash deposits.
  17. Know your insurance companies limit on yearly medication coverage. Even though they may cover the costs over your copayment, the total drug costs are being applied to your yearly limit, potentially leaving you without coverage before year end. When I was prescribed the very expensive drug I ended up buying at Canada Drugs, my prescription limit was $2500.00 a month. If I would have purchased that medication at CVS, I would have surpassed my limit in less than 3 months. So if your prescription coverage has a yearly limit, it does pay to price shop even when you only have a small co-pay. Watching the total drug costs can delay, or help you from getting in the “Donut Hole” before year’s end.
  18. If you are a Veteran, you are eligible for medication purchases through Veterans Administration. Co-pays are very low for Veterans. The VA negotiates drug prices with the manufacturers keeping costs much lower for Veterans. Depending on eligibility, Veterans can obtain prescriptions from a zero co-pay to a $9 co-pay, and possibly have a cap of not paying more than $960 a year, far less than non-veterans are paying.

Angil Tarach can be reached for questions or comments at Angil@BehindtheOldFace.com or www.visitingangels.com/annarbor

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