- Health Care, Drugs & Insurance
10 Tips That Can Save You Thousands on Prescription Drug Prices!
Your doctor just handed you a prescription. Ugghh. You feel the cold sweat beginning to form on your anxious brow. A knot starts to develop in the pit of your stomach as your mind wonders which of your retirement accounts will you have to withdraw from to pay for this pill. Even with insurance these days, the costs associated with prescription medication are going through the roof. Gone are the days of the simple $5.00 and $10.00 pharmacy visits. Sometimes you are lucky to get out under a $100.00, and that was just for a 1 month supply!! Get ready for 10 tips to save you money on your next prescription.
What can you do? I mean...its not like you can do anything about it...can you?
YES YOU CAN!!! As a pharmacist I know there are many ways you may not be aware of that can save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars on prescription medication. Some of these things may just require you to take 1 or 2 very simple steps. Don't panic!!! You can do this! You really can. I promise it will be painless, and you will be thanking me all the way to the bank. So here we go. I'm going to share 10 tips with you. If even just 1 of these can be employed...you can begin saving money TODAY. When you are done, be sure to read the sequel: 7 More Tips to Save you Thousands!
Tip #1: Generics
Ask your doctor before leaving his/her office "Is this a generic?" Generic medications are held to the same high standards as branded products. They simply did not have to spend the millions of dollars to prove that the drug was safe and effective. The brand name manufacturer did that...and their reward was a nearly 20 year patent protection which gave them time to recoup their expenses. If it is not a generic, ask your doctor if a generic would work for you. If you feel awkward, simply say something like "My insurance always gives me trouble with brand name drugs...do you think we could start with a generic and then switch to the brand if the generic doesn't work?". This shifts the blame to someone that both you and your doctor dislike...insurance companies! One more thing, while still in the office, please ask your doctor to CLEARLY print the name of you medicine and quantity on the BACK of your prescription if you don't think you can read it. This information is critical for tip number 5. If it is too late and you have left the office, its okay, just call them back and ask them to spell it out for you. For more help on getting great generic prices, check out THIS ARTICLE
Generic drugs alone could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars every year on your prescription medication!
Tip #2: Samples
If the only thing you can use is a brand name drug, ask the doctor if he/she has any samples available. Often drug reps leave boxes and boxes of samples to give to patients so they can try their product for free. A month supply of samples could save you a hundred bucks or more, depending on the drug. And if they DO have samples, be sure to call them back before you run out and ASK FOR MORE! Just call on the phone, and explain to the secretary you are battling with your insurance company, and until things are resolved, could they spare some more samples of "x" drug? They are literally putting cash in your pockets with every sample you get!!
Tip #3: Literature for Offers
If no samples are available (or even if there are!) ask your doctor if they have any literature on the drug. Why? Because you want to read boring medical mumbo jumbo in small print?? NO!! Because the literature will often have a coupon or website reference, from which you may be able to get a free offer!! If the literature itself does not have any kind of "free 30 day supply" offer, look for a website address (e.g. www. "your drug name". com). Go to the website and look for savings offers. For example, let's pretend you just got a prescription for Advair, a very expensive (though effective) asthma medicine. Here is their site with an offer for a free inhaler, and coupons for subsequent prescriptions: http://www.advair.com/#. Simply sign up for their newsletter and collect your coupon. That's like earning $200.00 for 5 minutes work! There are some ads right here on this page that could save you hundreds on prescription drug prices! Check them out!
Tip #4: Free Medical Programs
Regardless of whether or not you now have a generic prescription, the next step is to see if your town or community has a free medical program. Many communities do. And they often have samples and free medication to give away - not just to the lowest 1% income bracket - but to anyone who lacks the resources to pay for their prescription. Just ask! Call them up and say "I have been given a prescription for "x", do you by chance have any samples?" If so, once again, it is money in your pocket.
Tip #5: Price Shop
Okay, lets actually find out what this bad boy will cost you if you DON'T have insurance. If you DO have insurance, but they don't cover this medicine, this step might help you too. Go home. That's right. Go home. Do NOT go to your pharmacy. Once there you will be tempted to pay for it and all your opportunity to get a better price is lost. Go home. Open the phone book. Call 5 local pharmacies and ask the following question: "Hi, I don't have any insurance, could you please tell me how much "x" tablets of "x" (your drug name) will cost?". You might want to be sitting down for this step! But maybe you will find out it is not as bad as you thought. Write down the pharmacy name and the price. Before hanging up say "Thank you so much...what was your name?" Jot down their name too. It is nice to have that in case you get there and they tell you a different price. If you have done step 5, you now have 5 prices. Guess which one you will go with. That's right! The lowest price. This is NOT like bidding for a bathroom remodeling job where the low price bidder could be some shady uninsured illegally working ex-convict from another country. These are pills (or a cream, inhaler, syrup, whatever). They are all the same. No pharmacy has better "quality" medicine than another. We all get them from the same place. Just switching pharmacies could save you hundreds of dollars on prescription medication costs!
Tip #6: 90 Days Supplies
Okay, here is another tip: GET MORE. What? Get more? Call the bottom two price quotes back and ask them what the cost would be if you could get a 90 day supply instead of just 30 days (assuming it was written for just 30 days). You may be surprised to find out that the price per tablet drops remarkably when you get more. If this is true, you need to call your doctor back and ask for a new prescription for 90 days. They can either phone it in, or you can pick it up. Of course, have them phone it only to the lowest price pharmacy. Make sure they understand that, since it might not be the same pharmacy you have been going to since they invented penicillin.
Tip #7: Tablet Splitting
Change the dose! What? Tamper with that holy and inspired prescription from my medical mystic? Yes. Well, not really. What I am suggesting is that we find out if the same medication is available in a HIGHER dose which you could then SPLIT IN HALF to get your dose! Believe it or not, drug manufacturers often price their products the same price per tablet no matter what the strength. I won't go into why they do this right now. But they do. And it could save you a bundle if you are willing to pop that little pill into a tablet splitter before taking it. Not a lot of work, but worth a lot of money. To find out if you can do this, call any pharmacy you want. I don't care if it is even in the same State. It doesn't matter. Just ask to speak to a pharmacist this time (no offense to the many fine techs, but some drugs cannot be split and it is likely the pharmacist knows this the best). When he/she finally picks up say "I have a quick question, I know you are busy, thank you for your time (good lead in, and makes us overworked and underfed pharmacists a little more receptive to help!). I have a prescription for "x" (your drug and strength) and I was wondering if they make a higher strength that I could split in half. I hear it may be less expensive that way". Wait while the pharmacist finishes chewing the last bite of his cold meatball sub that he started 45 minutes ago and still hasn't gotten halfway through! When you get your answer, and if you can in fact do this, now go back to step 5 and make your calls again with this new information. Yes, you could also have just asked this in step 5, but if the prescription turns out to be $8.99 a month you may just want to cut your losses and not bother with cutting your tablets!
Tip #8: Find a Similar Drug
Okay, here is another tip. Again, this one may or may not apply in your case, but if even 1 or 2 of these tips works for you they will save you enough to take me out for a nice steak dinner next month!
Lets find out what other drugs are "similar" to yours. That is, what other medications are available that work the same way, treat the same condition, or generally belong to the same "family" of drugs. There are any number of ways to do this. If you like using computers, to a site like www.webmd.com and do some research. OR...just call any pharmacy in the good old U.S.A. and once again ask to speak to a pharmacist. The beauty of this is that it doesn't matter where you call, and you can almost always speak to a pharmacist. All you want is information! So ask something like this "Hi, I have been given a prescription for "x" (your drug), could you possibly tell me the names of 1 or 2 other drugs which are similar to this that might be less expensive?".
You could throw in something like "You guys know what is out there better than the doctors do". Flatter them. They love it. Most likely they just got yelled at by some customer who complained that the dog food aisle should be moved closer to the pharmacy for pet-loving patients, and now wants to submit a formal complaint by screaming at the guy in a white coat!. Anyway, enough biography. Repeat this 2 or 3 times with different pharmacies and you now have a list of drugs. Check some prices. Then call your doctor's office back and say something like "My insurance won't pay for drug "x", could doctor so-and-so consider switching me to this (new, cheaper alternative)?". Maybe it will be appropriate, maybe not. But there are OFTEN multiple drugs to treat your condition and your doctor's original choice could very well have been motivated by nothing more than the free pen he just got from the "x" drug sales rep. Sorry docs, no offense, but you do know that is why they give you the pens right!!!????
Tip #9: Mail Order
Okay, lets now assume you have insurance. You need to find out what it is going to cost you. Two choices:
1) Call that nifty 1-800 number on the back of your card and follow the prompts for customer service. Find out the price that way. Believe it or not, your insurance company can actually tell you what they will charge you. Also, while you have them on the phone, ask THEM if there is a less expensive way to get this medicine.
They may suggest mail order. Get the details! Personally, I would prefer all patients use their local pharmacy. However, until we fix the system that encourages mail-order pharmacy, we have to work with it. By mailing your prescription to your insurance they can often provide the medication less expensively, saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on prescriptions every year!
Also, your insurance rep may have suggestions which you can then present to your doctor. Or
2) Just bring the prescription to the pharmacy. But make it clear to the person you give it to that you would just like them to run the claim through to check the price. Tell them you will be back in 15-20 minutes. Tell them not to bother filling it just yet. Shop. Read a magazine. Buy your pharmacist a cookie (oops, did I say that?). Go back afterwards and find out the price. If it is too high, ask for the prescription back and go home and call your insurance company. Ask them to recommend something that would cost less.
Tip #10 Ask a Pharmacist
Okay, if all of this seems overwhelming, ask a pharmacist for help finding something less expensive. Many pharmacists would be willing to invest our time into saving you money.
There are your 10 tips to save you thousands (potentially) on your prescription drug costs. Try them out. See what you save. And I'll get you my address to mail me my commission. Aw...what the heck...just keep the money and give it to your church, a local food bank, or some charitable organization that needs the help. Best wishes! Be sure to see Part II in which I share 7 More Money Saving Tips!