3 Ways to Keep Your Medication Costs Down

    How to keep your monthly medication payments from doing a number on your bank account.

    By Geoff Williams, U.S. News

    Prescription drug prices are rising, as are tempers. On Dec. 9, a congressional hearing looked into the rising cost of medicine and what appears to be a troubling trend: pharmaceutical companies purchasing already-available drugs and selling them for much higher prices.

    Several companies reportedly have done this in recent years, although Turing Pharmaceuticals AG has become the most infamous example. The company received a ton of negative headlines earlier this year for buying the rights to an antiparasitic drug, Daraprim. The 65-year-old drug had been selling for $13.50 a pill; Turing raised the per-pill price to $750.

    But even if your monthly medication payments aren't as high as your mortgage, what you pay may still be doing a number on your bank account. In April, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a global information and technology services company, released a report showing that consumers spent $373.9 billion on medication in 2014, a new record high.

    So is there anything you can do to keep your medication costs down? It depends. If you're blindly going to your pharmacy and paying whatever they're asking for, you probably could do better. Try these strategies.

    The no-brainer method. Even the most experienced consumer can forget the obvious, and young adults may be new to buying pharmaceuticals. So we'll start off with a reminder.

    "Make sure you are being prescribed the generic form of the medication," says Haidar Al-Saadi, medical director of Lakes Urgent Care clinic in Livonia, Michigan.

    If there's a generic version of a big brand-name medication, the generic is almost always going to be cheaper, and it will be as effective as the familiar name you're always hearing advertised. But whether there is a generic or not, don't assume the price your pharmacy is offering is what you'd be paying everywhere else.

    "If you aren't shopping your drug costs at different pharmacies, you should," says Jared Heathman, a psychiatrist in Houston. "Pharmacies routinely charge different prices for the same products."

    Heathman likes GoodRx.com. You can compare prices of your medicine being sold at local pharmacies, and he says you may find coupons for the medications you need.

    Other sites to check out include WeRX.org and LowestMed.com.

    Sure, going to different pharmacies for different medications isn't exactly a timesaver, but if you save enough money, you may be fine with that. But, as you may discover, depending on the medication you're looking up, these sites may not bring you significant savings, just a bunch of high numbers.

    Don't panic, however. As David Holt, a health care attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota, says: "Quite simply, if you are paying retail price for medications, you are paying too much."

    The slightly harder approach. It's only harder if you haven't done it before, and you don't like change. But you could try getting your medication through a mail-order pharmacy. There are numerous options out there, like HealthWarehouse.com and Express-Scripts.com, two of the nation's biggest.

    "Beware of scam online pharmacies," Holt warns. He says he steers his clients to HealthWarehouse.com, to which he has no affiliation.

    Whatever the online pharmacy, make sure it has a VIPPS seal on the website. That stands for Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites. If the site doesn't have that seal somewhere, you're looking at a major red flag.

    Two other potential danger zones: if the website doesn't ask for your doctor's prescription, and if there isn't a pharmacist on call who can answer questions, according to Linda Bernstein, a San Francisco-based pharmacist who is also a spokeswoman for FamilyWize.org, an organization with a drug price lookup tool and a prescription discount savings card.

    And you may find that your insurer insists you try a mail-order pharmacy, if you want your prices to remain low, and may even recommend a specific one to use.

    Mark Aselstine, a business owner in San Francisco, discovered mail-order pharmacies when his son began taking medicine for his asthma.

    "The first two times we filled a prescription in person, asthma meds ran about $20 each," he says.

    But then, after the second in-person refill, he says he had to pay double the price for the medication. That is, until he switched to a mail-order pharmacy for a 90-day supply. Then, he started paying $10 a month for his son's asthma medication.

    But if you do use a mail-order service, let your doctor know, so the prescription can be written for a 90-day supply, says Celeste Player, chief pharmacist at Express Scripts.

    Overall, at least with Express Scripts, Player says, "With home delivery, many patients can save up to 33 percent on their copayment costs."

    The "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" strategy. If you're still having no luck, which may be the case if you're underinsured or have no coverage, ask your doctor for samples and manufacturer discount cards, says Samantha Markovitz, a wellness and health coach in Orange County, California, who also has Type 1 diabetes.

    She suggests asking your pharmacist about any prescription-discount programs to run your medications through, and seeing if your doctor's office has free samples of the medication you need.

    "Pharmaceutical reps almost always leave these items in the office, so be sure to ask. If they don't have any on hand, ask if they can get you some next time the rep comes in," Markovitz suggests.

    Teri Dreher, president of North Shore Patient Advocates in Chicago, seconds that. "Drug companies often give doctors thousands of dollars worth of samples for their patients, and they keep them all in a closet in the back room," she says, adding that if people don't ask for them, the doctors won't necessarily think to offer them.

    She also suggests people check out NeedyMeds.org.

    "They have a massive database on medications, and all of the different options for getting them at low cost or free," Dreher says. "Some of the higher-priced medications that low-income clients cannot afford can be obtained at a much reduced cost."

    Really, think of an exorbitantly priced medication as you would if you received a troubling diagnosis. Just as patients are always encouraged to ask for a second opinion, you can always ask around for a second price.

    Source: U.S. News

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