Prescription Pain: Your Health, and Your Money

By Martin Brown

Prescription Pain: Your Health, and Your MoneyAngela Rees never gave much thought to the cost of a medication. Angela, who is 31, single, and a self-employed graphics artist, remembers the annoyance she felt when she needed an antibiotic and would get sticker shock when she would be presented with the bill at the pharmacy payment window.

“I’ve got insurance,” Angela explains, “but I cover myself on an individual plan which means the deductible is pretty big and the drug coverage is pretty much nonexistent.”

Being presented with a $160 bill for a new powerful antibiotic was annoying, but it happened rarely and once she felt better she forgot about the expense and went on with the business of living her life.”

But things changed for Angela two years ago when she began having persistent stomach discomfort. Her problem was a particular type of ulcer that as Angela relates, her mother suffered with as well. But unlike thirty years earlier when Angela’s mom faced the same diagnosis, there is now a new drug that would ease her discomfort and prevent the disease from creating additional complications.

The only draw back for Angela was the cost of medications.

And after a few months of $400 plus drug costs, Angela realized she needed to do something different. “It was one thing when I had the occasional high drug cost, but this monthly expense was just wiping out my budget, so I had to do something.”

As you probably know by now the situation that Angela Rees found herself in was not at all unusual. The good news is that we live in an age of “miracle drugs.”

The bad news is that those drugs can also wreck our fiscal health. More than half on all insured Americans are now taking at least one “maintenance” drug according to a report in the July issue of Money magazine, which also reports that new brand-name medications rose last year at a rate of more than two times that of inflation.

But, Angela has learned the lesson that many others have discovered, that if you are persistent and patient, you can cut your bill for the drugs that you need by fifty percent or more.

So here are some quick tips:

1.  It pays to compare prices.
The price of a drug at your local pharmacy and at a “big box” store, Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, can vary greatly. If you’re going on a drug that you’re going to be on for the foreseeable future the difference can really add up. So invest a little time and a little shoe leather to find a good price, the difference can be hundreds of dollars.

2.  Don’t just hand over your prescription and pay whatever the pharmacist says you owe, take the time to ask for a price quote.
If they have to call you later, that’s fine. Once the prescription has been filled most people, out of sheer guilt are just going to pay whatever they’re told to pay. So find out the price first.

3. Ask your doctor if your medication comes in a dose double that of what the doctor is prescribing.
Most pills are scored and easily cut in half and just about every pharmacy sells little pill cutters exactly because a lot of people do just that. Drug companies often charge 80% for a 2mg. pill of what they want for the 4mg. size. Tens of thousands of people have cut their cost by nearly half with a little $2 pill cutter.

4. If you’re lucky enough to be able to take a drug that has gone into generic form.
You might be able to get your prescription for $4 a month or less through special plans instituted recently by Wal-Mart and others. So ask and learn if your drug is one of about 400 that qualify. There’s a reasonable chance that it is not on that list, but it never hurts to ask.

5. Go north of the border.
No not by bus or car, but online or through a 1-800 number., for example, is a highly dependable source for drugs at about 60% of the cost of US prices. You need a doctor’s prescription and shipping is usually five to seven days. Canada legally cannot ship any narcotic or controlled substance across the border, but other than that you are perfectly within your rights to buy drugs from Canada. If you want to use this service, get your doctor to write you a prescription for a 14-day supply and then a second for a 90-day supply that you fax over to the Canadians. Most doctors today are more than happy to help you to reduce your drug costs and will be only too happy to help.

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