Can you imagine how devastating it would be if you diligently saved for your retirement for years and years — and then watched your entire budget get wrecked by unexpected medical costs?
That’s precisely what’s happening to countless retirees across the United States, and prescription drugs often play a big role in contributing to the damage.
If drug costs have been eating a hole out of your budget — or perhaps your parents’ budget — the tips in this column could be helpful for you.
And even if you’re nowhere near retirement age, much of this information could help you spend less money on the medicines you need.
1. Ask your doctor for help. Many people never ask their doctors about how they could save on medicines. Your doctor may have plenty of ideas – and he or she also may have access to free samples. Pharmaceutical companies provide prescription medicines free of charge to physicians whose patients could not afford them otherwise.
2. Ask your pharmacist for help. A frank discussion with your local pharmacist also could work wonders for you. Just ask R. Wayne Bowen, a pharmacist from St. Petersburg, Fla. “In my 44 years as a pharmacist I have assisted countless patients in finding ways to lower the cost of their medications,” Bowen said. “In my experience many, if not most, pharmacists are happy to suggest alternative, less costly drugs. Typically these are generics but (they) may be a less expensive branded drug from the same therapeutic class.”
3. Investigate helpful programs. To determine your eligibility for reduced-cost or cost-free drug programs, visit the Web site of Partnership for Prescription Assistance. Another site that can point you to drug manufacturers’ assistance programs is NeedyMeds.com.
4. Optimize your doses. Fewer pills can mean lower bills, so ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you can take a higher dose of your medication once a day rather than a lower dose more than once daily. Your doctor or pharmacist also can tell you whether it’s appropriate to buy higher-dose pills and split them yourself. You can buy a device specially designed for cutting pills, or ask your pharmacy to do it for you.
5. Consider generics. Generic drugs can cost 25 percent to 80 percent less than their brand-name counterparts, and because they must pass the same Food and Drug Administration tests, generics are safe. If generic alternatives aren’t available in your case, ask your doctor about less expensive substitutes for the prescribed drug.
6. Learn about your options. Consumer Reports has launched a Web site called Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs to help you identify the least expensive medicines that are effective for certain conditions. You can access this information free of charge.
7. Retirees, choose your Medicare Part D plan with care. Rather than focusing only on the premium price, consider all out-of-pocket costs that may eventually bite you in the wallet. Will the plan provide any help after you and the government have spent a little more than $2,000 on drug costs? (That’s when the dreaded coverage gap or “doughnut hole” can kick in; after that time, many plan participants must pay for 100 percent of their drug costs on their own for a specified period.) To consider plan options – and also determine your eligibility for elimination of the doughnut hole – visit Medicare.gov, BenefitsCheckUp.org and Medicare D Advisor.
8. Opt for the online or mail-order route. You can save both money and time by having your medications sent directly to your home. Some health plans will let you order a three-month supply at one time for nearly 30 percent less than it costs to buy three one-month supplies at a retail pharmacy.
9. Shop around online. To compare drug costs and arrange to have medicines sent to your home, visit Web sites such as drugstore.com, Walgreens.com and Medco.com. Also ask your health plan about mail-order and online pharmacy options that exist for you — particularly options that will result in cost savings for you.
10. Tell all your doctors about all your medications. Doing so could reveal duplication, over-medication and unnecessary expenses for medicines that may not be working the way they should.
Sources and resources
- “,” a free guide by Medco Health Solutions (PDF file)