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07/11/2008

Save on Prescription Drugs

According to a recent report, more than half of insured Americans are now taking at least one prescription drug for a chronic condition. At the same time, the price of prescription medications has skyrocketed, employers have boosted co-payments, and insurers place restrictions on covered medications. There are some techniques to avoid most of the pain without having to cross the Canadian border.

1. Is It Necessary? Though this might seem obvious, many people never ask this question. There are plenty of over-the-counter medications that often work just as well as their prescription counterparts. Many have long-standing histories of effectiveness. There are even some of over-the-counter remedies which were prescription-only until fairly recently. First and foremost, find out if there is a prescription alternative to save bundles of cash.

2. Ask Your Doctor. Sometimes doctors prescribe drugs without giving thought to whether your insurance covers their cost. One possible way to save money is to talk to your doctor about alternatives to the prescription being written which are covered by your plan. Doctors may also have samples of the drugs they prescribe for you. Though it may be a short term solution, a sample could be enough of the drug for you to determine whether or not you'll suffer a reaction or side effect from it before buying a full prescription. That could be a big money saver in itself!

3. Buy Generic. If a prescription is necessary, find out first if there is a generic version that might work for you. Generics have always been cheaper than brand names. In numerous cases, it can mean more than a 50 percent cost savings. Both your physician and your pharmacist can help you explore potential alternatives to many brand-name drugs.

4. Buy in Bulk or Split Pills. If you'll be on a drug for a month or more, ask your physician if it's appropriate to order a bulk supply. It costs less than buying by the week or month. If not, find out if it's possible to go with a larger dosage and split it. Because prescriptions tend to cost the same regardless of the dosage, you may be able to buy a bigger strength and split each pill into two doses. For example, instead of buying twenty 50mg-pills, you could buy twenty 100mg-pills, split them in half, and get forty doses for the same price. This doesn't work with all pills, as some of them shouldn't be split, but if it okay with your doctor, go right ahead! To make it easy, buy a pill splitter at your local pharmacy for about $5.

5. Compare Pharmacy Prices. So there are the branded, generic, and over-the-counter drug prices, and on top of that each pharmacy is going to have its own price for each and every item in that category. That's why comparing prices among different locations can be so important to saving money on your prescriptions. Comparing pricing from different pharmacies works best on drugs you will take on a regular basis. This tactic doesn't always work, as you don't always have time to shop around when it comes to drugs you are prescribed for the short term to help you get over a sudden illness. Pricing your drugs may take some time, but may be surprised at the difference in costs.

6. Use a Drug Discount Card. Using a drug discount card can help save you money on your prescription drugs, too. Drug discount cards are available from a variety of sources. It make take some time to determine if the cards can benefit you or if you are eligible, but if you qualify they can go a long way toward saving money on prescription drugs.

7. Look into Prescription Assistance Programs. Prescription assistance programs are an excellent resource, particularly for those families with limited income. Of course there are government assistance programs for prescriptions and medication. But what if your income is too high? There are also private or pharmaceutical company programs which can help people gain access to medications for reduced prices or even free. Most of these patient assistance programs get your prescriptions directly from the drug manufacturer. Not all medications are covered and not all drug manufacturers have such patient assistance programs, but with the potential money it could save it's definitely worth a try.

8. Enroll in Your Company's Flexible-Spending Plan. These plans allow you to put aside pretax money to pay for health care and medicines, including over-the-counter drugs. Though you'll have to estimate in advance how much you'll spend, and you must use up the money before the plan's year ends, it can save lots of money in the long run.

9. Mail order. Mail-order pharmacies now account for 10 to 12 percent of the total prescription market. Ordering by mail can save you 10 percent to 15 percent in costs. This method is perfect for patients who take medication on an on-going basis and can place orders in advance.

10. Buy online. This method of savings is very popular, but be careful. There are many Web sites out there selling medications without a license or worse yet, distributing fake drugs. Avoid purchasing at on-line pharmacies located outside the U.S. as well, for you may not get the proper formulation of the drug.

Even if you have a prescription plan through your employer or via the government, you likely still wish you could pay less for your medications. If you have a prescription, you can save money by following the tips laid out in this article. And the best part is some of these techniques can be compounded together. For example, you can buy generic drugs with a discount prescription card at a low-cost pharmacy of your choosing and then get reimbursed through your flexible spending plan. See how that works? By using these techniques, you can save money on every prescription purchase that you make!

Sara Duane graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris, with a BA in English in 2003. She is as a freelance writer & editor in central Minnesota.





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