Are you looking to get prescriptions cheaper? Learn 9 ways to quickly and legally cut the cost of getting your medication prescriptions refilled.
Is the cost of prescription drugs making you choke?
According to the Center for Disease control, last month 48% of American’s took at least one prescription drug and 21% took 3 or more prescription drugs. Legal, prescribed drug use in our country, and around the world is at all time highs. It’s true that properly used, prescription drugs can greatly improve the length and quality of our lives. It’s also true that the cost of prescription drugs can greatly reduce the size of our bank accounts.
Government controls don’t work
Despite governments’ attempts to control our medical expenses, they are rising so quickly that it’s enough to make you sick. And the cost of prescription drugs shoots daggers through many household budgets— especially hampering folks who are retired and on fixed incomes.
There are no simple solutions, but many options exist for reducing or eliminating the excessive cost of prescription drugs.
The Average cost of prescription drugs
Since 1993, the retail price of prescription drugs has increased by 7.5 percent each year — almost triple the average inflation rate. According to a recent national survey of senior-age community newspaper readers, seniors pay an average of $4,000 to $8,000 per person per year out of pocket for prescription drugs. This is money above and beyond what Medicare and the “Affordable Care Act” cover. And, these numbers don’t appear to be declining.
If you haven’t researched ways to reduce any large recurring expense, chances are you’re spending more than you need to. Even if you aren’t retired, keep reading — many of these ideas may still benefit you. And some significant “elders” in your life may need your assistance as they wrestle with these increasing costs.
1. Drug Store Alternatives
Judy (a website visitor) wrote us several months ago with her strategy for getting her prescriptions cheaper: “There are several places on the Internet to buy prescriptions, but I don’t feel comfortable about that. I’ve found that Costco or Sam’s Club is my next best bargain. They carry the medication I need at almost half the price. I was paying $12.87 per month at my local drug store and now I pay $ 7.32 at Sam’s Club for the exact same medication. I also learned that Costco’s online price guide is not the same as their “in store” price. Remember, these pharmacies are open to the public — even if you don’t have a membership card!”
Make a list of your medications and call the warehouse clubs, grocery stores, and pharmacies. Always get the name of the person you speak with and make note of the prices. If the medications are the same and you don’t have to drive too far, go with the least expensive option.
2. Saving the Co-Pay
It used to be that a doctor could prescribe a 3-month supply of a needed drug and the pharmacy would fill it and only charge you one co-pay. With the Affordable Care ACT, many insurance companies have curtailed this practice. But it can result in substantial savings, so call your insurance provider and find out what their rules are. If this doesn’t result in any savings, we’ve discovered that if we ask our doctor to prescribe a readily available generic for a 3-month supply, then pay for it without using our insurance it’s less expensive than paying 3 separate co-pays. Check with your pharmacy to see if this strategy will help you save on your medications.
3. Generics and Alternative Drugs
A few years ago, while on vacation in Texas, our son John became ill with bacterial pneumonia. We went to a medical clinic and had his condition diagnosed and a prescription authorized. The young doctor prescribed a new antibiotic that cost more than $100. We countered the doctor’s recommendation and asked for erythromycin — an older, but effective antibiotic. He consented and we paid $18 for the prescription. Just asking a question gained us $82 in prescription savings. Yes, John recovered just fine.
Consumer Reports has a free Web site where you can research safe alternatives to commonly prescribed drugs. Visit CRBestBuyDrugs.com. They report on several categories of drugs and offer common alternatives that will usually save you money. Each category is presented in a brief format with a longer report available as a .pdf download.
The point is that simply asking for a generic or an alternative medication, that’s just as effective at curing what ails you, could help get your prescriptions for less and make your wallet feel happier, too.
4. Natural and Alternative Medicine
We won’t delve into alternative medicine in this article, but many surveys have been conducted comparing the effectiveness of prescription drugs and lifestyle change. Most results show both options to be as effective as the other. Our go-to manual for alternative and natural remedies for our illnesses is The Prescription for Nutritional Healingby Phyllis Balch. The book is revised every few years and is chocked full of great information on herbs, vitamins and other supplements to help your health issues improve.
Cutting the cost of prescription drugs
Another strategy to cut your medication costs is to ask your doctor to order your prescription at double the dosage so you can cut or split the tablet in half with a pill splitter. In many cases, the double-strength prescription will cost the same amount as the half-strength one. Doing this cuts your drug costs in half. Please check with your doctor or pharmacist before making this decision. According to a consumer medical research group, splitting certain drugs may compromise their effectiveness.
5. Is it safe to consume expired drugs
Money-saving consumer advocate Clark Howard encourages listeners of his daily radio program to disregard expiration dates on medication. He says that the military tested “tons of expired drugs and found out that they were still effective.” Steve researched his assertions and found several documented stories and studies stating that most solid form medications (i.e. pills), properly stored (dark space, dry and cool), will maintain up to 90 percent of their potency for as long as 10 to 15 years beyond the posted expiration date! Specific drugs that aren’t recommended for long-term storage are nitroglycerin, insulin, and some liquid antibiotics.
Some states require pharmacists to place an expiration date on newly dispensed prescriptions that is one year earlier than the date on the bulk package from which they are dispensed. Apparently, expiration dates are more a supply chain issue than a potency or safety one.
Our friend Dr. Kevin Ludwig, who is a missionary doctor in Papua New Guinea, for many years received donations of expired medications for use in his clinic until the local government put a stop to this practice so their selected supplier could make more money. Regardless of the politics of expired medications, Dr. Ludwig says that most medications can be safely stored for years, losing only a small percentage of their potency. The stories he tells of lives he’s saved would astonish you.
If you’re uncomfortable with the ideas of using expired drugs, do your own research (with a Google search on military expired drug testing) and draw your own conclusions.
6. Free prescription samples
Drug companies flood doctors’ offices with free samples. When you’re heading to the doctor’s office, do what Annette does. She brings a canvas tote bag and a list of over-the-counter medications she needs for stocking our medicine cabinet. This same principle holds true for prescription drugs. Just ask! You may be pleasantly surprised and how much you’re able to receive from your doctor and how much you’re able to save on your next prescription.
7. Online Drugs
The National Center for Research says that about 1.9 million Americans buy their prescription drugs online in an effort to get them cheaper. Steve’s parents purchased prescriptions from an online Canadian pharmacy for several years. During their research, they ran into some questionable tactics, like the customer service person telling they that they could fill their order without an official prescription.
At a recent gathering in our home, Steve was talking with a friend who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 30 years. His job is research and quality control. He told hair-raising stories of visiting pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in foreign countries where cleanliness and a lack of safety, security and quality measures rendered more than 70% of what was manufactured as unusable. He said that the problem with poorly manufactured drugs entering our supply chain can result in less effective results or in extreme cases . . . death.
There are approximately 11,000 online drugstores, recently the National Association of Boards of Pharmacies stated that fewer than 4 percent of these pharmacies were operating according to FDA standards. And in June 2015 the FDA took action against more than 1000 of these sites, seizing products that they were selling fraudulently as FDA approved prescriptions and medical devices.
Please be very careful when ordering from an online pharmacy. Do your research, and try to verify the country of origin for the medications you are purchasing.
8. Patient Assistance Programs (PAP)
One final and extremely helpful way to get your prescription drugs cheaper is actually offered by the drug manufacturers themselves. Most manufacturers have put together PAPs, based on varying qualifications, for lower income or uninsured people, or those with no prescription drug coverage, to receive steep discounts or free medications.
Each company has a different way to figure eligibility. Kenny, a contributor to the MoneySmartFamily.com website, shared his experience in researching several PAPs to help his mother manage her prescription drug costs. He told us some programs require proof of eligibility every quarter and some only once each year. Most of the people he spoke with were very patient but it wasn’t easy to get the exact qualifications for each program. Specific information on who can qualify and income thresholds was also hard to come by in literature and on Web sites. He needed quite a bit of persistence to get definitive information. For example, some PAP’s consider complete household income, while others consider only the patient’s personal income. This can make a big difference if you have elderly parents living in your home.
In most cases, the application forms are submitted through your doctor. Medications are delivered to your doctor’s office and you must pick them up there. If you have a lower income and need a specific brand-name medication, the patient assistance programs seem to be the best deal out there.
There are companies that offer to fill out and submit the paperwork directly to the drug manufacturers on your behalf. Of course, they charge — ranging from a small fee per prescription to a monthly fee to keep you signed up. We don’t recommend this option. If you need help, ask a relative or friend for assistance.
If you’re looking for a list of PAPs, check out these two websites:
9. Price Match
Kroger Pharmacies have a policy of matching any verifiable prices from another pharmacy. We have found that calling around to various pharmacies to get pricing on comparable medications is a great way to save. For us, price matching Costco’s price has been the least expensive way to go for to save money on some of our prescriptions.
Making your prescription costs easier to swallow
The cost of prescription drug can put a choke-hold on your finances. Aggressively pursuing lower costs and other money-saving solutions can make financial “breathing” a little easier. If your prescription costs are draining a significant portion of your monthly income, now is the time do something about it.
Call your doctor, get online or hit the library — research will get you the answers you need to save a bundle of cash — and that’s not a hard pill to swallow.
Other Resources from Consumer Reports
If you know of other ways to get prescription drugs cheaper, please leave a comment below.