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Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

Ineligible for Medicare? State and pharmaceutical assistance programs can help you find the drug benefits you need.

O, Canada?

You've probably heard that drugs sold in Canada -- and other foreign countries -- are cheaper than those in the U.S. While it can be true, experts urge caution.

"We don't really get into the issue of buying drugs from Canada or elsewhere because it's too fraught," says Parkin. "Our position is that there are a lot of programs here in the U.S. that people can use without having to get drugs from other countries."

Sagall, from NeedyMeds, is also wary.

"I don't advise people about getting drugs out of the country," Sagall says, who goes on to admit that "[he] would say that getting them from Canada or Great Britain is probably OK because they are countries that have safety regulations that are similar to ours."

But he does worry about discounted drugs coming from other areas in the world.

"I'm concerned about safety," he says. "You definitely want to avoid any country or organization that will send you the drug without a prescription."

Problems with the Medicare Drug Benefit

While the new Medicare drug plans have helped many people get affordable drugs, they have also been laden with problems. For example, many people have found the basic medications they have been taking for years are not covered.

Parkin argues that -- given the speed with which it was created and the political pressures exerted on it -- some problems at the beginning are to be expected, while Sagall maintains "the Medicare drug benefit [has] been a complete disaster."

One problem is that Medicare's plan and drug company assistance programs can come into conflict.

That's because most assistance programs won't accept those who qualify for other drug coverage. Unfortunately, that 'other coverage' may now include the Medicare drug benefit.

"Lots of people have relied on these drug assistance programs for a long time," says Sagall. "But now because Medicare is offering drug coverage, the drug programs are forcing them out."

The problem is that the Medicare program, in many cases, can't come close to offering the discounts -- often free drugs -- that the assistance programs could.

"A lot is going to change this year," Hardin tells WebMD. "The dust hasn't even begun to settle yet with the Medicare drug benefit."

Seeking Drug Savings? Stick With It

If you have limited resources, tracking down ways to save money on your drugs might seem overwhelming. But experts say it's worth the effort.

The best resource may be the Internet. And "talk to your doctor," Parkin says. "Or call a local agency on aging for advice."

And stay informed. It's far too early to tell how drug assistance programs, state programs, and Medicare will work together, says Hardin. The details may change a lot in the coming year.

Finally, remember that a little persistence goes a long way.

"Finding these drug discounts is not as complex as people think," Sagall says. "And these programs do work. They save people's lives. You just have to be willing to spend some time finding them."

Reviewed on October 04, 2010

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