Saving Money on Drugs

How can I save money on drugs?

Following your doctor's orders is getting more expensive all the time. From 1997 to 2014, what Americans spent on prescription drugs more than tripled, from $429 to $1,370 per person, with a 7.3 yearly increase from 2015 through 2017. If your medicine is having a less-than-healing effect on your wallet, it's only natural to search for a way to cut costs. Fortunately, there are several ways to save money on medicine without putting your health at risk. Here are some of the major ones:

  • Ask your doctor about generics. Generic drugs contain the same active ingredients as their brand-name counterparts at a fraction of the price. A simple switch could cut your bill by 20 to 60 percent. Unfortunately, not every drug has a generic equivalent. In addition, some doctors prefer to stick to brand names in cases out of habit. However, generic drugs are safe and effective for most conditions. Occasionally, a generic drug might not be the least expensive option, especially if you have a drug discount card: Different plans have different pricing structures based on the discounts each program has negotiated for its card holders. If you aren't sure what will cost the least, ask your pharmacist or plan administrator for help.
  • Shop around. The prices of prescription drugs can vary wildly from one pharmacy to the next. A prescription that costs a little over $10 at one pharmacy could go for over $80 at another. If you live in a state where pharmacies can advertise prices of prescription drugs, check to see who has the best deals. Many pharmacies will quote prices over the phone. You can also compare prices online in places like GoodRx.com.
  • Consider mail order. Mail-order and Internet pharmacies are inexpensive, convenient, and can help you save money on drugs. But take the normal precautions: Make sure the pharmacy is licensed; don't order medications without a prescription; and stay away from foreign companies. Medicines manufactured in other countries are not FDA-approved, and they may not live up to American standards. Besides, bringing foreign pills in to the country or having them delivered to your house is technically illegal. For now, the FDA isn't cracking down on people who import drugs from Canada for their own personal use as long as it's a 90-day supply or less.
  • Buy in bulk. If a certain drug is part of your daily routine, you might be able to save money by purchasing more than a month's worth of medications and supplies (if your health plan allows it). Keep in mind that some drugs don't keep well. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before stocking up, and take the expiration dates on your medicine seriously.
  • Check your insurance. Many private insurance plans will cover part or all of the cost of medications. Be aware that most plans have a list of "approved" drugs that they will cover. If the drug you take isn't on the list, ask your doctor if you can switch to one that is. Your doctor can consult with the plan's representatives about why you need to make the switch.
  • Take your medicine properly. If you skip doses or otherwise stray from the schedule, your disease could worsen, potentially leading to even more prescriptions and more expenses. Mismanaged medication can even cause permanent damage. And that's a price no one wants to pay.
  • Ask your doctor about pill splitting.You can save money by buying pills at twice your prescription dosage and splitting them in half -- but only if your doctors say those pills are safe to cut in half. If they are, buy a pill splitter to get the dosage exact.

References

ASPE Issue Brief. Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending. March 8, 2016

The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Complete Home Medical Guide. Filling the Prescription.

Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Health Care Costs and Financing.

Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Statistical Brief #168: Trends in Outpatient Prescription Drug Utilization and Expenditures, 1997 and 2004. April 2007.

Arthritis Foundation. Taking Stock: Cutting costs on drugs.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Office of Regulatory Affairs Imports. Importation of prescription medicines/drugs.

Institute for Safe Medicine Practices. Penny wise/pound foolish? Breaking tablets to save money may be dangerous.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Spending on Top 10 Outpatient Prescription Drugs.

San Francisco Department of Public Health. Legal Status of Canadian Prescription Drugs.

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