[The following is a guest post by our friend Dr. Jacob Milbradt, a Kansas pharmacist. Jacob graduated with distinction from the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy and currently works as a pharmacist in an independently-owned pharmacy in south central Kansas. He is founder and president of MrMedSaver.com, an Internet-based consulting firm that specializes in helping people save on their prescriptions.]
These days, we’d all like to save as much money as possible on just about anything. However, I encounter numerous people every day who spend way too much money on their prescriptions. It’s a common misconception that prescription drug therapy is simply expensive, and there’s nothing you can do about it. With a little effort, though, you can easily cut your drug costs. Here are a few tips for real savings at the pharmacy.
1. Comparison Shop.
If you don’t have insurance, comparing the prices at different pharmacies is an absolute MUST. Most people don’t realize just how much pharmacy prices can vary . . . especially for generic drugs. In fact, just the other day, I called around to different pharmacies to check on some prices for a particular generic medication. For just thirty tablets, the price varied from $37.03 to $599.00! And no, that’s not a typo . . . that’s a price difference of 1,617%! While most differences won’t be quite so extreme, the lesson remains the same. You’ve got to comparison shop.
2. Buy in Bulk.
Regardless of whether your prescription is for thirty or ninety tablets, it costs your pharmacy the same amount time and money to fill it. Because of this, you often get a price break for purchasing a larger quantity of medication at once. Usually, this is more the case for generic medications than for expensive, brand name drugs.
3. Maximize Your Insurance Benefit.
If you have insurance, do you know the maximum amount of medication your plan will cover at once? This is usually determined by the length of time your prescription will last you. For example, some plans will charge you the same copay whether you fill 30 or 90 days’ worth of medication. If this is the case, filling a three month supply of your prescription will cut your drug costs by 67%. Even if your plan will only allow you to fill a month’s worth of medication at a time, you should still determine the maximum days’ supply they will allow. Most doctors habitually write prescriptions for 30 days’ worth at a time. But if your insurance plan will cover 34 days at a time for the same copay, just this small amount will add up-cutting your yearly drug costs by about 12%.
4. Just Say No to Samples.
Most prescription savings advice written by people outside the industry recommend asking your doctor for samples of your medication. My stance is the exact opposite of this. In my opinion, if your doctor has samples (or coupons for that matter) for your medication, you need to question whether this drug is really the most cost-effective medication for your condition. Most doctors think they’re doing you a favor when they give you samples. Of course, one or two free months of medication is usually outweighed by paying for an overpriced brand name drug year after year.
5. Split Tablets.
Many medications, generics and brand names alike are priced the same regardless of the strength. Because of this, doubling the strength of your medication and only taking a half tablet can actually cut the cost of your prescription in half. While most people have heard that tablet splitting can save a lot of money, few actually utilize this tactic. And don’t forget, some types of tablets shouldn’t be split. Always ask your pharmacist if this is a safe practice for each particular prescription.
6. Take Advantage of Deeply Discounted Generics.
Everyone’s heard of Wal-Mart’s $4 generic program, but many other pharmacies also have deeply discounted generics available as well. If you plan on utilizing such a program, make sure to comparison shop for any non-discounted prescriptions. Many of these pharmacies sell these cheap, generic prescriptions at a loss only to grossly overprice others.
7. Communicate with Your Doctor.
Few doctors are experts at prescription pricing. And most of the time, your doctor probably doesn’t know how much your prescriptions cost you. Every week, I speak with a different doctor who is absolutely amazed at how expensive certain medications are . . . and this is only AFTER these doctors have prescribed such drugs! When it comes to your prescriptions, your doctor will be much more cost conscious if he or she actually knows the prices you’re paying for your medications.
8. Follow Your Formulary.
A formulary is a list of preferred medications provided to you by your prescription insurance plan. Your doctor usually won’t have any clue as to which medications your insurance prefers. Your copays are usually lower for these preferred medications, so it can make a huge difference if you simply bring your formulary with you to each of your doctor’s appointments.
9. Avoid “New-and-Improved” Versions of Older Drugs.
When pharmaceutical companies lose patent protection on their drugs, they usually come out with “new-and-improved” versions of these medications. These new versions are often only slight improvements over the older drugs, but are usually three to five times the price. Whenever your doctor prescribes a new medication for you, ask if it’s one of these “new-and-improved” drugs. If so, request to try the older, more affordable, generic version first.
10. Take Less Medication.
This last tip is often the most overlooked. It’s important to regularly review your prescriptions with your doctor, discussing exactly what each of your prescriptions is supposed to be doing and how essential each is. Sometimes, you’ll discover that your most expensive medication is one that you don’t really even need. Of course, you should never stop taking any of your prescriptions without your doctor’s approval.