We are a pill-popping nation. From TV and magazine ads hawking the latest cures to the estimated $287 billion prescription drug business, Americans are taking medicine for everything from heartburn to erectile dysfunction.
But a growing number of people are having trouble paying for medicine. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 29 percent have not filled prescriptions in the last two years because of cost.
And insurance seems to be picking up less and less of a share of the cost, says Edward Jardini, M.D., author of "How to Save on Prescription Drugs."
"There's a good chance you're paying more than you need to," Jardini says.
Here are some of his tips on how to be a smarter patient and stretch your health-care dollars:
Split double-dose tablets
Splitting a tablet that is twice your dose saves up to 50 percent on prescription costs. This is because different tablet strengths of a particular drug are often priced the same. (Or if not, the cost per milligram is usually less at higher strengths.) Ask your doctor about prescribing double-strength tablets at half-tablet dosing as a cost-saving measure.
Few consumers realize that the retail price of a prescription can vary among local drugstores by 300-400 percent; shopping around can save plenty. Mail-order pharmacies and online retailers offer even greater savings. The value of drug purchases also varies with the quantity of medicine purchased. Maximize savings by finding out what quantity of pills gives the best value and by purchasing your medicines from the retailer offering the best price.
Find out the retail price of a prescription before using a prescription drug insurance plan
Your prescription drug co-payment may be higher than the retail price! Always find out what your drug costs retail before using any prescription coverage, then you can choose the most economical way of paying for it.
Insist on treatment with generic drugs
Generic drugs cost up to 90 percent less than their brand-name counterparts. Insist your doctor prescribe medications that are generically available. Obtain generic substitutions for expensive brand names whenever possible.
Ask your doctor about using one drop of eye medication at a time
Because the eye can only hold one drop of medication, instilling a second drop is wasteful. Eye specialist consultants to the Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics agreed that “... all eye drops should generally be given as one drop,” a practice that can save you 50 percent on your eye prescriptions and reduce side effects.
Start new prescriptions with a small supply
Insist on a prescription for only a few weeks’ supply of a new long-term treatment, such as for high blood pressure. That way, if the medicine is not satisfactory, you won’t have paid for a large supply of pills you can’t use.
Take advantage of assistance programs
Most drug companies have programs providing prescription drugs at no cost to those who can least afford them. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (888-477-2669) offers a single point of access to more than 475 public and private patient-assistance programs, including more than 180 programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. The Web site is helpful in linking your medication needs with one or more programs for which you qualify.
The Free Medicine Program (573-996-3333) is an advocacy group that will go through the assistance program application process for you. It was established by volunteers who ask only for a one-time fee of $10 that can be refunded if they don’t get you your medicines for free. Avoid patient-advocacy groups that have ongoing monthly charges.
Insist on cheaper medicines within the same class, or a cheaper class of medicine for the same treatment goal
Because doctors don’t often consider cost when prescribing medication, they tend to choose the latest, most expensive drugs. There are usually cheaper medication choices (possible substitutions for the most popular expensive drugs are listed in the Expensive Drug Survival Index of“How to Save on Prescription Drugs, 20 Cost-saving Methods” ). Ask your doctor if a substitution for an expensive drug would be an appropriate way to bring prescription costs within your budget.