If you think you’re spending a lot of money on prescription drugs, you’re probably right. In 2008, American patients and insurance companies spent more than $234 billion on prescriptions, up from $40 million in 1990. In 2020, annual spending on prescription drugs is expected to top $512 billion.
With all signs pointing to more spending increases, this article covers the dos and don’ts of how to save on prescription drugs.
“In most cases, generic drugs can save a great deal of money,” says Corey Sawaya, RPh, a pharmacist in Stow, Ohio. Almost 80% of FDA-approved drugs have generic alternatives that cost an average of four times less than the brand-name versions.
If you take a medication that is going off patent, however, you may need to wait six months to enjoy huge savings. Drug makers can limit generic competition for six months after a drug’s patent protection expires. In time, cheaper generic options become available.
2. Do Look Into Splitting Higher-Dose Pills
Pill splitting is based on the fact that many pills cost about the same even if they contain twice as much medication. An 80 mg pill is often close in price to a pill with 40 mg of the same drug. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medication is safe for pill splitting. If so, ask your doctor to prescribe twice the dosage you really need, so you can split your pills in half.
Be aware, many pills are not safe to split, including time-released drugs, coated pills, and capsules, says Richard Sagall, MD, president and co-founder of NeedyMeds, a nonprofit organization in Gloucester, Mass, that provides information about financial assistance programs for prescription drugs. “The best person to ask whether it’s safe to split a pill is the pharmacist,” he says.
3. Do Talk Openly With Your Doctor
Your health care provider may not know how much you’re paying for the drugs he or she prescribes. “Patients should talk with their doctors so they can consider less expensive options,” says Sawaya. It also helps to review all your medications with your health care provider from time to time. If you’ve been taking a drug for a long time, it’s possible you no longer need it or could switch to something cheaper.
4. Do Shop Around
“Prices at pharmacies are fluid,” says Sagall, who recommends negotiating with your pharmacist. If one pharmacy has the best prices in town on all but one of the medications you’re taking, let the pharmacist know and see if she can give you a discount on that one drug. “Many pharmacies want relationships. They want to keep you as a patient, and this is one way they do it,” says Sagall.
5. Do Look Into Patient Assistance Programs
Many pharmaceutical companies have programs that provide their drugs at deep discounts or even free for people in need. If you have a prescription for a high-cost drug, check out the company’s web site to see if they offer assistance. You can also look up patient assistance programs on the NeedyMeds web site (needymeds.org), which provides information on almost 6,000 programs.