Hidden Deals: Saving at the Pharmacy

March 26, 2009 Do's: What you can do to save money without compromising your health

· Ask if there are generic or less-expensive brand-name drugs that would work just as well as the prescription and over the counter medicines you're taking now. Generic medicines can save you a great deal of money. If a generic is not available, check to see if you can use a therapeutic alternative which is a similar drug that gives the same results that is available as a generic.

· Ask your doctor to be sure the medicine he/she prescribes is on the formulary for your insurance plan for the lowest out of pocket costs. A formulary is a list of "preferred" generic and brand name medicines covered by your insurance plan.

· Become familiar with over the counter (OTC) medication alternatives. Talk to your pharmacist and you may save on the cost of a prescription and possibly an office visit.

· In some cases, pill splitting can help save money. If your medication is safe to split (ask your pharmacist) and is available in a variety of strengths that cost about the same, you can ask your doctor to write your prescription for double the strength and then you can split the pills in half using a pill splitter. It is best to split one pill at a time, rather than splitting the whole bottle at once. That way if there are more milligrams in one half than the other, you will take the correct dosage over 2 days instead of stretching mismatched dosages out over a month. Capsules, gel caps and certain timed release pills should never be split.

· Schedule an annual medication review with your pharmacist or prescriber. By reviewing all your medicines including over the counter drugs, herbal supplements, vitamins and prescription drugs, it may be possible you are taking drugs you don't need or drugs where cheaper alternatives are available.

· Don't store your medicines incorrectly. Heat and moisture can reduce the potency of a medicine so don't store your medicines in the bathroom medicine chest. You don't want to open a vial of medicine only to find it all clumped together due to moisture and heat and then not be able to take it.

· Talk to your pharmacist about your concerns. The pharmacist can help you navigate your options and may be able to recommend a drug company assistance program that would be beneficial in your case.

Don'ts: these strategies can compromise your health and well-being

· Skipping doses or taking smaller doses of your medicine to save money is not safe. If you can't afford your medicines, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to determine alternatives. The most expensive medicine is the one that doesn't work because it isn't taken correctly.

· Shopping around and buying your prescriptions at a variety of pharmacies is not a good idea. This can result in your medication records being scattered across pharmacies so the pharmacist can't accurately check for drug interactions, duplications, etc. This is especially dangerous if the patient goes to more than one doctor and the doctors don't know what each is prescribing. Sometimes the pharmacist is the only safeguard against drug interactions but if you shop from pharmacy to pharmacy, you are losing that safety measure and to save a dollar or two, it is not worth the risk.

· Be careful with promotions for expensive drugs. Your doctor may give you a coupon or you may see an ad in a magazine for a great deal on an expensive drug. Keep in mind that in most cases the deal won't help you on your refills and the next time you need the medicine, you are going to have to pay full price for it. You'll end up spending more money in the long run than if you used a less expensive alternative.

· Samples may be good for saving money initially but keep in mind the following caveats. Consumers need to be sure their doctor knows all of the medicines they are taking (including OTC and dietary supplements) especially if they get medicine from more than one doctor to be sure there are no drug interactions. It is also a good idea to let your pharmacist know about any drug samples that you are taking so that he/she can add it to your medication profile. Also, be sure that the samples you receive are for cost-effective medicines. Many times doctors have samples of name brand, expensive medications and if you are going to be on them long-term, it may cost you a lot more in the long run.

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