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Lowering the Costs of Asthma Treatment

Asthma treatment has made great strides, but good care is costly. Here are ways to get some help.

The High Cost of Asthma continued...

"If you let your asthma get bad and have an attack, that's a really bad thing," says Edelman. "You'll have to pay for the ER bills and make up for the time you miss from work."

Among uninsured people with asthma, 52% say that they are not getting the medical care they need. And people with low incomes report spending up to 10% of their total annual earnings on asthma care.

Perhaps surprisingly, the very poor are not the worst off, since they may qualify for public assistance.

"Medicaid is the best insurer now," Edelman tells WebMD. "So the poorest people with asthma are often in the best shape."

People who have limited incomes but don't qualify for Medicaid face a tougher situation. Many earn too much to get public assistance but work for employers who offer little or no insurance. Some retired people with limited incomes don't qualify for Medicaid because they have too much money in assets, like a house, says Edelman.

Younger people who have just graduated from college are also vulnerable. They lose their insurance they had from their school or parents, but don't yet have a job that offers benefits.

However, the uninsured aren't the only ones in trouble. People with insurance are feeling pinched, too.

"Even people who have insurance are having trouble affording the higher and higher co-pays for medicines," says Edelman.

Safer Ways to Lower Drug Costs

Medications are the biggest expense for people with asthma, says Bernstein. But there are ways of lowering your cost.

  • Ask your health care provider and your pharmacist about taking generic medicines instead of brand name drugs. Although there are a limited number of generic asthma medicines available, they can be substantially cheaper, says Mayrides.
  • If you have health insurance, look into mail order prescription plans, recommends Bernstein. "You can sometimes save quite a bit of money with mail order," Bernstein tells WebMD. "For instance, you might get three prescriptions for the price of two."
  • Edelman says that in some cases, using older and out-of-fashion medicines may be a good idea. "When I have a patient who is in especially difficult financial circumstances, I rely on drugs that many physicians no longer use," Edelman says. He says that while dyphylline may have greater side effects than newer drugs, it works well and is inexpensive. In some cases, he also uses the oral corticosteroid prednisone. "It's a very good asthma drug and it's very cheap," he says, "However, the side effects are substantial if you use it for a long time."
  • You could also ask your health care providers for free samples of prescription drugs. While it is not a long-term solution, it could help you make it through a particularly difficult stretch.

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