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Save Money on Medicine

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Save Money on Medicine

Save Money on Medicine

I haven't mentioned it in a long-time, but in former life (we are going back to my high school and college years), I was a pharmacy technician. I found it incredibly dull and couldn't understand why one would ever want to make a career of it. Life has it's interesting twists and turns and 6 years after I left the pharmacy business, I met my future wife... a pharmacist. While I didn't tap her knowledge for this article (she's got enough to do right now), she has given me a few tips on how to save money on medicine in the past.

  • Have a Good Insurance Plan with a Low Co-Pays - It's not easy, but any complete article would have to include some mention of insurance and co-pays.
  • Pick the Right Store
    • Buy at Wal-Mart - Wal-Mart has some great prices on medications. They've been pushing their $4 a month (or $10 for 90-day) prescription program. It obviously can't cover any drug, but with hundreds of options there's a good chance your prescription is covered. Wal-Mart also has some of the best prices on over-the-counter drugs I've seen
    • Buy at Costco - I don't know if it's true of only Costco, but I've read that the big warehouse stores
  • Buy Generic - I had a friend who was big on "not skimping on medication." In theory that sounds fine, brilliant even. However, generic and brand name drugs are one in the same. As the FDA says, "A generic drug is the same as a brand name drug in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance, and intended use. Before approving a generic drug product, FDA requires many rigorous tests and procedures to assure that the generic drug can be substituted for the brand name drug. The FDA bases evaluations of substitutability, or "therapeutic equivalence," of generic drugs on scientific evaluations. By law, a generic drug product must contain the identical amounts of the same active ingredient(s) as the brand name product. Drug products evaluated as "therapeutically equivalent" can be expected to have equal effect and no difference when substituted for the brand name product."

    That said, I read last year that some generic drugs from China and India may not be safe. Looking at this article, it seems like the FDA might not even allow any generic drugs from China at this time. In looking into this more, it seems like it might be years before the US gets any significant part of it's generic drugs from China. (Note: I don't mean to pick on China, it's just where I could find an authoritative source... plus the lead toy scare is still in people's minds.)

  • Buy in Bulk - I buy acetaminophen (Tylenol) in very large quantities. The problem with this is expiration dates. Confession time: I sometimes take expired over-the-counter medication when it's to fix a sudden sympton: i.e. cold, headache, etc. I would never take an expired prescribed drug. However, please don't follow my example on expired medication blindly. This is a case where there's a large distinction between me saying what I do and saying you should do. It is my belief that some of those medications have half-lives and if I'm taking something expired by a little bit, I might not be getting the full dose. I'm okay with that in the case of acetaminophen. However, again, I may be very wrong on this. I don't know if I could put more disclaimers on this.
  • Ask Your Doctor if a Generic Drug Would Suffice - I think there are new laws to limit how doctors get kickbacks from drug manufacturers, but it wasn't always this way. For years, doctors would get taken out to sporting events and the like. That may not happen any more, but I'm not sure the doctor is always looking out for the patients' wallet (or pocketbook). Another idea is to again look towards the FDA for equivalent drugs. Of course, if there's a good reason for the brand name, then go with that. Health comes first, right?
  • If you are low-income, look into Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) - These programs can be a life-saver (literally) for those who qualify. One place to learn more is at the the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
  • Buy Online from Canada? - This would be a very last option for me. For one thing, it strikes me as likely illegal (though I'm no lawyer and I haven't done research into this). For another thing, I don't know how much I can trust a company in another country that I only have an online relationship with. If you can deal with that it seems like the savings are there to be had.
  • Exercise, Eat Well, and Take Care of Yourself - An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?

Last updated on June 17, 2009.

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11 Responses to “Save Money on Medicine”

  1. kosmo @ The Casual Observer says:

    Some insurance plans waive the co-pay or have a lower co-pay for generic prescription drugs.

    Watch the pricing on OTCs. I used to buy Ranitidine (generic Zantac) for acid reflux (unfortunately I am now on an rX). One retailer had consistently bizarre pricing. Sometimes the price-per-pill of the 80 count bottle would be considerably more than the PPP of any quantity larger or smaller than the 80 count. Other times, it was as if a monkey randomly assigned the prices to the various size bottles.

    This doesn’t just apply to meds, of course. Never assume that a larger package means a lower per unit price, because this isn’t always the case. I think some retailers take advantage of the public perception of “larger is cheaper” as well as the assumption that most people can’t calculate unit prices in their head. If you’re not good at math, use the calculator on your cell phone :)

  2. I also wanted to throw Meijer in there as a great place to buy medicine, at least here in the midwest. My daughter recently had to get a common antibiotic, which Meijer fills for free. The same one costs $4 at Wal-mart and $4.90 at CVS. Ask your doctors office about programs like this in your area!

  3. Craig says:

    I always buy generic, it’s so much cheaper to buy store brand than name brand for some headache pain killers or cough medicine.

  4. Jim says:

    It is technically illegal to import drugs from Canada even just for personal use. But you’re not likely to get prosecuted if its for personal use.

    There are safety concerns too if buying just over the internet.

  5. Abigail says:

    Yes, it is technically illegal to import prescriptions from Canada.

    And since one of my most vital meds isn’t covered by Medicare (off-label use) and is nearly $500 a month, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t buy from Canada. At all.

    Since we’re all not buying from there, it’s completely useless for me to point out that I would base my trust of a place on whether they required a real prescription. (Some places seem to offer to write the scrip for you. Scary stuff.) They would require you to fax or send in a prescription from an American doctor. Then a Canadian doc would review the symptoms you listed and the prescription asked for, and write one that is legitimate in Canada.

    But, of course, since we’re all so honest, clearly that information isn’t useful.

    It’s also good to discuss any prescription concerns with your doc. Let him/her know if your coverage is nonexistent or questionable. Most of them will consider all options and help you find a cheap one.

  6. Prevention is generally 9/10 of the cure. Having grown up outside the US, but lived in the US in the past 5 years, I see a major difference in terms of most American peoples’ and doctors’ willingness to use pharmaceutical means to hide symptoms and avoid treating the underlying problem.

    People are buying painkillers so they can keep exercising through the pain rather than run right (or stop running!). Type II diabetes? Well, given the choice between the needle and not eating the cupcake, people choose the needle?!

    Minor ailments that generally solve themselves result in prescriptions. And don’t get me started on antibiotics! Or orthodontics — Americans has a strange fascination with making their teeth straight and blue/white instead of the natural cream color. Generally, if you can chew, orthodontics is not needed.

    Of the more major problems are the fascination with cholesterol lowering drugs (statins) which have effectively no effect (but potentially serious side effects) if you have not previously suffered a heart attack.

    I also note a divergent attitude on putting people on blood pressure lowering medicine and yet American’s don’t live longer than people in countries that don’t do this as a matter of policy.

    Of course there are diseases where drugs do make a large difference, but there are certainly many problems where drugs are not needed but prescribed anyway, at least in the US.

    Disclosure: Long WFC (I’m a cynic, what can I say)

  7. Correction: Got the symbol wrong WFC->WAG (Walgreens)

  8. Stacey says:

    Ha! I was also once a pharmacy tech. You’re right, it’s not as great a job as people think it is.

    Just a side note: Many drugs become less effective after their expiration date, no harm done if you take them. Others become MORE potent and cause life-threatening side effects. You never really know unless you speak with a doctor or pharmacist, and most won’t share that information.

    If you’re getting a prescription drug, which the gov says must “expire” one date after it is packaged, ask for the “real” expiration date on the bottle. Many drugs, such as migraine or pain medication, have a much longer shelf life than one year. This can save you money if you’re getting a prescription drug for an on-and-off problem. You don’t need to throw the drug away after one year if it is stored properly – low moisture and light, ect. Just ask the tech politely, please.

  9. Patty says:

    If you do have insurance and the option to get a 90 day supply by mail, first check to see if it is cheaper to get at a retail pharmacy. My insurance mail order is sometimes more for generic than I have to pay at a retail pharmacy. Also the brand name is $65 for 3 momth supply by mail. The brand RX (no generic available) I have to take is about $26 per month at a retail pharmacy but for the past several months I have been able to get a $25 gift card from various pharmacies for filling my RX there. (CVS, RiteAID, local supermarkets). So net cost per month has been $1.00

  10. My state of Florida is getting its act together, by launching a number of helpful initiatives, at least for uninsured and under-insured.

    And, Lazy, you can sort out a few links here: http://bit.ly/RXMBJ which list some national helpful programs.

    A new initiative in Florida launched this year is called Cover Florida plan for folks who have been without health insurance for at least six months, and are not eligible for a public health insurance program such as Medicaid or Medicare: http://www.coverfloridahealthcare.com/#

    Also, The Florida Discount Drug Card Program can be of help to people with low income and who are over 60: http://bit.ly/wxNO

  11. Joy says:

    I asked my physician if I can buy generic medication then I started buying medication online at International Drug Mart. If you are having insurance then you should look at Doughnut hole calculator that clearly shows how you need to avoid.

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