Step One: Talk to Your Doctor!!!
The first step to cutting your drug costs is to have a frank discussion with your physician. Do not be embarrassed if you cannot afford the high costs of the medications he/she is prescribing. Millions of other patients are in the same pair of shoes.
As mentioned in the Free Prescription Drugs Available for Many article there may be help along this avenue. Along the same path, ask your doctor to give you samples received from the pharmaceutical industry. All doctors receive samples and they may just have the free samples that apply to your condition.
Ask for Generic Drugs
One of the most effective ways to cut your drug costs is to find out what generic drugs are available to you. Again do not do this on your own, consult with your physician. Your doctor may have specific reasons why you cannot take the generic drug. It may be the other medications you're on, side effects, or a host of other reasons.
Remember, your pharmacist can't just give you a generic for the drug the doctor has prescribed. If a generic substitute is o.k. have the doctor note that on your prescription. Some pharmacists are willing to phone your doctor to get this approval if they know of a suitable generic replacement. However, you're always better off getting it in writing from the doctor in the first place.
So, what are generic drugs. They are simply lower-cost substitutes for brand-name drugs. These drugs are not protected by patent and no manufacturer holds a monopoly on them, however, many companies produce both a regular retail price drug and a generic drug.
Ask for Related Drugs
It may also help to look for related drugs which are substitutable for most people even though their chemical make up is different. Examples would be Tagamet(cimetidine), Zantac(ranitidine), Axid (nizatidine) and Pepcid (famotidine). They are all members of the histamine-2 receptor antagonist class, and they are all pretty much subsitutable. Again your doctor and your pharmacist may be able to suggest a lower price alternative in the same class.
People in need of prescription drugs sometimes forget the obvious. As with anything else shopping around for the best price often pays off and may cut your costs substantially. Some studies have shown prices may vary by as much as 50% in one local area for the same drugs.
However, patients should be aware of two important things when doing this. First, if the pharmacist is not careful and/or you don't remember all the medications you are on, you risk drug interactions which can affect your health.
Second, do not jump at every drug advertisement that hits the airwaves thinking that this new drug will be better for you than the one you're already on. Sometimes these claims are picked up by otherwise reputable newspaper or television agencies and reported as fact. Drug advertisement is to increase sales. Buyer beware and consult with your doctor and a pharmacist you have a relationship with before insisting on the new kid on the block. These drugs usually are some of the most expensive pharmaceuticals you can buy.
Discount Drug Programs
There are a lot of new programs on the market touting the benefits of joining discount groups or participating in a prescription drug plan from $7 a month on up. Sometimes joining fees and premiums can negate any savings the plan may offer. Often these plans only cover limited drugs and and limited pharmaceutical dispensers.
Make sure to investigate thoroughly before joining any of these programs. You should first get a copy of the drugs covered by the plan and the exact discounts you will receive. If a company refuses to provide this information, it is likely the plan can not really do much for you. If the company does provide you with this information up front comparison shop with other pharmacies in your area to make sure you are getting a good deal before committing any money and make sure if the company lists a participating pharmacy in your area the pharmacy still participates in the plan.
An alternative to discount drug program is a group buying program such as that offered by the American Association of Retired Persons. Click here for more information. However, you still need to comparison shop even with these programs.
Ordering on the Internet
As patients try to cut their drug costs the number of web sites and mail order distributors offering "great deals" has significantly increased.
Many people are lured to web sites outside the United States where drug prices may be significantly cheaper. However, many sites offer drugs of inferior quality. It is particularly harmful for people to use these sites to sample unprescribed medication. In our next section Crossing the Border we'll share information with you on reputable ways to cross the borders north and south to gain some prescription drugs at a savings.
Internet and mail-order drugs are not always cheaper. These companies are changing their prices constantly and you must comparison shop before you plop down the money. Many times the shipping and handling charges alone will negate any savings from shopping on line.
In general you should follow these FDA guidelines:
- Never buy from a site that will sell you drugs without a prescription. Legitimate sites always require a prescription, either called in by your doctor or mailed in by the consumer.
- Never buy from a site that does not list a U.S. telephone number and address in case you need to contact them about problems.
- Steer clear of sites that feature undocumented claims about drugs or promote "amazing cures."
- Only use Internet pharmacies that have the approval of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. To check on a suspicious site you may visit the associations web site or calle them at 1(847)698-6227.
- Don't buy from sites that offer to sell drugs not approved by the FDA.
- Don't do business with sites that do not provide access to a registered pharmacist to answer questions.
- Be c areful of sites that use impressive sounding terminology to disguise a lack of good science or those that claim the government, the medical profession, or research scientists have conspired to suppress a product.
- Steer clear of sites that include undocumented case histories claiming "amazing" results.
- Talk to your health care professional before using any medication for the first time.
- If you suspect a site is illegal, you can report it to the FDA by visiting the agency's web site and using the online reporting form .
Crossing the Border
Many people in need of prescription drugs are travelling across the border (primarily to Canada) to buy prescription drugs at reduced rates. Some travellers have been able to cut their drug bills in half. Of course this option only makes sense if you are already planning a trip to a state that is near Canada or are planning a trip to Canada.
The following information will prove helpful if you are investigating this option.
Travel in person. You must travel in person You cannot legally carry someone else's prescription across the border and have it filled.
Prescription length. Make sure your U.S. prescription is written for the longest period that your doctor feels is realistic- certainly three months and preferably six months or longer. You should ask your doctor or pharmacist about the possibility of obtaining a longer prescription.
Call before you leave. You must arrange for an interview with a Canadian physician in order to obtain a Canadian prescription for the drugs you need. This interview, which will cost you between $20 and $60, may include a physical examination. Those who have traveled across the border recommend setting up this appointment before you leave home.
Check the drug price. You must check beforehand with the Canadian pharmacy to check the drug's price and its availability. Not all U.S. drugs are sold in Canada; nor are all drugs in stock all the time.
Authorized prescription . It is legal to carry prescription drugs across the international border as long as you have the authorized prescription with you. Certain narcotics may only be carried across in a one-month or two-month supply. The Canadian pharmacy and physician should be aware of these restrictions.
Information for Veterans
Did you know that there is a federal law that entitles all veterans to purchase prescription drugs at significantly reduced prices. Veterans receiving medication for treatment of a service-connected condition, veterans rated 50% or more service connected, and veterans receiving VA pensions or whose income is at or below the maximum VA pension rate are exempt from co-payments for medications altogether.
Please note these programs are constantly changing. To take advantage of the program you need to do two things.
1. Fill out the VA application form 10-10EZ which is available here in Adobe PDF format. Then mail it to the VA, at the address below, along with a copy of your discharge papers (DD-214 or equivalent).
VA Medical & Regional Office Center
345 Perry Hill Road
Montgomery, AL 36109
If you have any questions about the application you may contact the Eligibility Clerks at 1-800-827-100.
2. Once your application has been processed, you will receive a notice from the VA of your eligibility. This letter will advise you to call and make an appointment with a VA doctor. You will need to be examined by the VA doctor and have the VA doctor write your prescription.
To make an appointment at the VA in Montgomery, call 334-272-4670. It helps if you bring along your current prescription(s), the one(s) written by a non-VA doctor.
For patients with serious illness or on rare drugs many disease related groups such as the American Cancer Society have information available on how to make a request for assistance. You may have to phone or e-mail them to get this assistance but if you know of a specific organization for the disease you or a loved one has you should get in touch with them to see what kind of pharmacy assistance may be available.