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Saving Money at the Pharmacy

Updated on July 29, 2009

First Things First

Whether you're someone who takes prescription medicine already, or if this is one of your few times taking them, I can help you. The very idea of visiting the pharmacy is daunting. We've all heard how prescription drug prices continue to increase at a higher rate than just about anything else. You have every right to be apprehensive when you walk in the door. But there are some things you can do before you get there that could make a big difference in how much money you have to plunk down.

While you are still at your doctor's office, ask questions about what he/she is prescribing for you. Is it a new drug? If so, ask if they have samples. Often when a new drug comes out, the manufacturer will provide samples to doctors in order to allow patients to try it. If they have no samples, ask if they have any discount coupons. The companies sometimes, in lieu of samples, give coupons for discounts. These coupons will not only save you money if you are paying full price, but often will reduce your copayment if you have insurance.

If your doctor has no samples or coupons, ask if there is a generic version of the drug that he/she is prescribing. If not, ask if there is a similar drug in the same class that is available in generic. Doctors are often influenced by manufacturer literature and salesmen to prescribe newer drugs, when an older generic will do the same job for much less money. Emphasize to your doctor that you need to save money, and if the prescription costs too much, you may not be able to afford it at all. Most doctors would rather see you take something than nothing, even if it is not exactly what they ideally would like for you to take.

Perhaps your doctor has explained to you why you need an expensive drug, that there is nothing even similar that will do what you need this drug to do. You still have options. If it is a brand-name drug, you may be able to find discount coupons online. Do a Google search for the drug name; all of these drugs have websites with consumer and prescriber information. Many of them have either a printable coupon, either for savings on the first prescription, or sometimes for multiple fills. Some sites will ask for your personal information so that they can e-mail with special offers. You may consider this spam, but my husband often receives discount offers for the expensive insulins that he takes. We have saved a lot of money on his copays using these manufacturer discounts.

Most of these manufacturer discounts will give you the savings right at the pharmacy; some will require you to pay full price up front and mail in your receipt and the coupon for a rebate. You will have to look up each drug to see exactly what they offer.

You may find prescription discount cards in magazines, and some counties and states also offer a discount card.  You can call your pharmacy to ask if there are any such programs, and how you can find out about them. They may not always save you money, so if you use one at the pharmacy, ask if it is less expensive to pay full price or to use the discount card.

What Happens at the Pharmacy

You've heard it before, and it's true: you should get all your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy. Why? Because your pharmacy can screen for drug interactions with other medicines you may be taking, and, over time, you can build a relationship with the pharmacy staff and feel comfortable asking them about over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and anything else that may affect the prescriptions you take.

Present your new prescription at the pharmacy, and ask if they have it in stock. Sometimes, if it is a new drug, a pharmacy may not have had any requests for it and will have to order it. Asking up front will save you from coming back in a few hours only to discover that you will have to come back the next day. Give them your insurance card and any discount coupons you have, and verify that they have your telephone number.  Ask them to call you if there is any issue with your insurance coverage.  Sometimes the newer drugs will require prior authorization, which means your doctor will have to either call or fax information to your insurer to justify the use of the drug.

It never hurts to ask if there is a generic version of the drug available.  Sometimes your doctor may not be aware that a generic has entered the market.  This can save you a lot of money, not only if you are paying full price, but also on your copays. The difference between the copay for a brand name and generic drug is often substantial.

In most cases, you will not be able to have your prescription filled while you wait, unless you are lucky enough to show up when the pharmacy is not busy, or if you are willing to wait for quite awhile. A pharmacy that fills a lot of prescriptions deals with continuous insurance issues, as well as dosage and other problems that require them to take extra time to resolve. Give them plenty of time to fill your prescription.

When you come to pick it up, be sure to ask if they were able to use the discount coupon that you brought in.  Sometimes in the midst of the busyness it will get missed.  Hopefully, when the price is announced, it will be affordable and you will go away knowing that you got the best price for the medicine that you need.


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