$aving Money On Med$

NovHealthPicWho doesn’t like to save money on a good bargain? Much of the time, it doesn’t really matter if the purchase is of great quality; we buy something because we like it or are feeling a little down, and shopping helps us feel better. And, that item marked down 70% makes us feel like we beat the system, even if it’s junk!

When it comes to more significant purchases, like medicine, however, we need to make sure that the quality is good, and that we can buy them and still afford to feed ourselves and our kids. Medications are one of those purchases in life that you just don’t want to have to do without if you really need something to relieve pain or manage a disease. And, even if you feel shy about sharing your financial woes with your health care provider (HCP), most would rather help you get the medicine you need instead of you ending up in worse shape because you didn’t take it.

What can you do if you find out that a medication you need is expensive? Ask your HCP if there is an alternate medication that won’t break the bank. For example, if your HCP suggests that you use an over-the-counter (no need for a prescription) drug like Advil® or Motrin®, ask her/him what the generic name of the drug is. Many drugs have trade names – that little R with the circle around it means “registered trademark” and these are always more expensive. Many drugs have generic equivalents. In this case, the generic name is “ibuprofen” and buying ibuprofen instead of Advil® may have you paying less than half the cost of the brand.

Some people worry that generic drugs are not as effective as brand name drugs, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that they be exactly the same in dosage, effectiveness and potency as brand name drugs. In fact, many generic drugs are made by the same companies that manufacture the brand name drugs. If you have prescription coverage through your health insurance, most of the time the insurer will only pay for generic drugs when they are available. If your HCP recommends a certain prescription drug that you can’t afford, ask for a similar drug. Sometimes, the latest and greatest, more expensive drug is recommended, but an older version will work just as well for you.

If you need to take a medication that is not covered by your insurance, ask about coupons, samples and patient-assistance programs. Even if you have prescription coverage through your insurance, it doesn’t automatically mean that every drug is paid for. For example, over the summer it was recommended to me by my nurse practitioner that I take a certain medication. First, I checked with my prescription insurance company to see if it was covered; it was not. So, instead of saying “forget about it” or spending an exorbitant amount of money, I called my nurse practitioner to see if she had any coupons that would pay for the drug; happily, she did. Instead of paying $350 a month, I paid $40! Often HCPs have supplies of sample drugs in their offices. This is especially helpful if you are taking a medication only for a week or two. Ask if your HCP has any samples available. Some companies actually will help you pay for your long-term medications or give them to you for free through their patient-assistance programs. They may require you to submit documentation to demonstrate financial need, like utility bills, pay stubs and the like, but the extra effort on your part may pay off handsomely in the long run.

Some prescription insurers may want you to “buy in bulk” using mail order services. This is usually done with medicines for chronic illnesses like high blood pressure or diabetes – medicines that have to be taken every day for years. They generally give you the best rate for ordering a three months’ supply that is mailed to your home. They save on postage if they only have to mail your medicine once every three months, and can pass that savings to you. If you are paying out-of-pocket, there are some national chain pharmacies that charge very reasonable rates when you buy a 90-day supply of meds – Target, Walmart and Rite-Aid are some. Buying in bulk can help with medications, but be careful to check the expiration date – make sure it will be good for a long time.

Splitting pills is another way you might save some money, if your HCP is willing to write the prescription for double the dose you need. For example, if the recommendation is to take 25 mg. of a medication, your prescriber might write for a 50 mg. dose; you can then split the tablet so each half has 25 mg. in it, and now you have medication that will last twice as long. There is one great big caution with this, however – NOT ALL MEDICATIONS CAN BE SPLIT! You cannot split capsules or extended-release medications. Splitting may allow too much or too little medication to get into your blood stream, so ask your HCP before you split any pills.

Although this is more common in the elderly, polypharmacy can also occur in younger people, as well. Polypharmacy is the use of four or more medications by a patient. Make sure you give an accurate account of what medications you are on, so that if you go to a new HCP, they are not giving you a medication you already have. Ask your HCP if all the medications you take are all still necessary – you might find out that you really could do without some of them and cut down on those expenses.

The best advice of all, of course, is to do whatever you can do to prevent illness so you won’t need a bunch of medicine in the first place. But when you do need it, try these ways to cut down on costs – it might just cut down on some stress, too!

About Norma Stephens Hannigan

Dr. Norma Stephens Hannigan is a Doctor of Nursing Practice who teaches at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing in New York. Dr. Norma has treated many truck drivers at the various clinics she has worked in over the years. She currently writes for 10-4 from her home in Newburgh, New York.