How to save money on prescriptions

Costs of prescription medications are heading up. Health insurance pharmacy benefits—if you have any—are heading down. Copays and deducibles? Up. Extra income? Down. It’s a tough time for many families who need prescription medicines.

There are many good ways to minimize your prescription expenses. Feel free to add your own in the comments section, below!

Always ask if a generic is available! Older medications often have a generic version at a much lower cost, and generic products are perfectly fine. There are many docs and many people who believe that brand-name products are superior, but in almost all cases it’s just a matter of marketing and packaging. The drug companies want you to believe only the newest, fanciest, and most-expensive medicines are for you. Don’t believe it!

Buying generic is safer, too. Generic medicines have been on the market longer, and are much less likely to have some kind of surprise side effect that hasn’t been noticed yet. It is very rare that a new medicine has any real advantages over the older products.

If a pharmacist tells you that a prescribed medication is expensive, ask if there are similar therapeutic substitutions. These won’t be exactly the same, but will be very similar. You’ll want the pharmacist to be in touch with your doctor before switching a medicine, but often there are cheaper choices available on your formulary. Don’t assume that your doctor knows what medicines are in the lower tiers for your plan.

Ask for samples: but watch out. Samples will always be for the new, expensive medicines—so once the samples run out, you’ll want to switch to a generic. Samples might get you “hooked” on an expensive medicine that you’ll stay on for a while, which is exactly why the drug companies give samples to the doctors to distribute.

For long term medicines, you may be able to order a larger quantity through a mail-order service. Ask your insurance company if you have a mail-order pharmacy benefit. It’s a hassle, but it can save money.

Sometimes, a larger quantity can be prescribed for the same copay. This won’t work for pills taken every day—the pharmacist won’t give you > 30 days on the same copay—but for prescription skin creams or medicines taken “as needed”, your doctor could prescribe a larger amount at once.

Many drug manufacturers offer “patient assistance programs” to help low-income families afford medications. An excellent web site with clear instructions for finding and using these programs is www.needymeds.org. It’s a non-profit, and they don’t collect any personal information. Go there to look up by medication what sorts of programs might be available for your family.

Info in this post was adapted from the chapter “Choosing insurance and paying bills” in A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child, by me. Makes a great holiday gift!

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