How to Reduce the Cost of Prescription Drugs

by Annie on December 14, 2010 · 4 comments

in Healthcare & Health Insurance

Do you know that your doctor is your best ally when it comes to keeping down the cost of prescription drugs? However, the cost of prescription drugs is not the first thing your doctor thinks about when she pulls out a prescription pad. The existing health insurance system makes it easy for her to prescribe drugs without thinking about the cost of prescription drugs.

This post is a discussion on some important questions you should ask your doctor to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs.

Doctors love involved patients

Doctors know that the cost of prescription drugs can be a financial burden for many of their patients. However, your doctor might not raise the issue of prescription costs because she does not want to offend you if you are not the first one to bring up the subject. For any given ailment, there are several drugs within a class of medications that could cure or improve your medical problem.

For example, my doctor can prescribe chlorpheniramine, Zyrtec, or Allegra-D for my allergies. All three are within the same class of medication. But the prescription prices are vastly different at the pharmacy. Chlorpheniramine is a generic drug which would typically cost me $4-$10 depending on which pharmacy I go to. Zyrtec is usually a preferred drug formulary and would cost me about $30. Allegra-D is a non-formulary drug and would cost me about $50. So unless I ask my doctor for the cheapest prescription drug, I could get the most expensive medicine. Truthfully, if I have to pay $50 for my allergy medicine I probably would have not filled the prescription. Have you ever not fill a prescription because of the cost at the pharmacy?

The smartest thing you can do as a patient is to talk to your doctor about the cost of prescription drugs BEFORE she writes her prescription and hands you samples of the name brand drugs. Free samples of prescription drugs is only going to cost you in the end. Here some important questions you should ask your doctor to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs even if you have health insurance.

Do you really need any drugs?

Most people go into a doctor’s office expecting to leave with a prescription. And many doctors find it easier to prescribe something harmless to placate the patient. The fact is many ailments will heal themselves. This is particularly true for kids. Other medical conditions could be resolved or improved with lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, dieting, and exercise. Instead we’re demanding antibiotics and a magic pill to fix whatever we got. Be sure to ask if you really need a drug first if you want to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.

Are there any over-the-counter drugs that will work?

In the last 10 years, many medications are deemed safe for over-the-counter status. For example, Claritin and Prilosec are now available over-the-counter. These drugs are available full prescription strength and are just as effective as their replacement name brand counterpart. However, your doctor might write you a prescription for Clarinex (for your allergy) instead of recommending Claritin. The existing health insurance system does not care about the cost of prescription drugs.  And with drug reps giving free samples to your doctor, the new replacement name brand drug might be more prominent in her mind.

Is there any equivalent generic medication that might work?

Within the next few years we will see a flood of expensive name brand prescription medication lose their patents. Any qualified manufacturer can produce these name brand prescription medication as long as they can meet FDA quality standards. Every major class of drugs now has, or will soon have, a proven generic drug that works just as well as its new replacement name brand prescription drug. Just because a replacement drug is new does not always mean it is better than the expired patented drugs. If you are not the type to pay designer prices for this year’s model, then why do you think it is okay to pay designer prices for prescription drugs when last year’s model can get the job done?

Can you prescribe the pill splitting dose?

If your medication is in tablet form, your doctor may be able to prescribe a double strength tablet. Then all you have to do is split the pill in half to get the dose you need. These days many tablets are already scored with a groove to help facilitate pill splitting. You can also pick up a pill splitter from any drugstore for a few dollars. Your doctor is quite familiar with this technique of pill splitting for the elderly to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and for children to reduce the dosage.

Ask for two prescriptions for maintenance medication: one for 30 day supply and a re-fillable 90 day prescription for a mail order pharmacy.

Most health insurance has a mail order pharmacy that will deliver to you a 90 day supply of any maintenance medication for the price of a 60 day supply (two co-payments). The reason you asked for in 30 day supply prescription is to fill the prescription at your local pharmacy to test out the medication. To really reduce the cost of your prescription drugs, you can always ask your doctor to give you a 30 day supply of free samples, then you can just fill the 90 day prescription right before you run out of the free samples.

As for extra free samples of prescription medication.

I once had an allergic reaction that required prescription medication for about two weeks. My doctor gave me a few samples and a prescription for the name brand prescription medication. Realizing that she has already given me a seven-day supply, I asked for a few more free samples. Guess what? I never did have to fill the prescription. When you don’t ask, answer is always no. When you do ask, there is a high chance the answer might be yes.

Whether or not you have good health insurance the cost of prescription drugs is always important. If you don’t ask these questions, you might end up paying more than you really need to for prescription medication.

Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joe MacMillan January 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Wow what great advice. I always wondered why the groove was put in the middle of some tablets. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.



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