Lowering the High Cost of Medicine

There is no question that we live in a blessed age, a time when doctors and pharmaceutical companies have found ways to turn once fatal illnesses into chronic conditions. But the price tag for the raft of medications many people take is almost as daunting as actually swallowing all those pills.

According to the 2010 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers, spending for prescription drugs was $234.1 billion in 2008, nearly 6 times the $40.3 billion spent in 1990. We can only assume it is higher still now.

Fortunately, American entrepreneurism has stepped into the void, attacking the problem on two fronts. Collectively, we share ideas on how to use the system to minimize our costs; further, a few individuals have harnessed the power of the internet to make sure that if a pharmacy somewhere is offering your prescription at a discount, you can find it. Finally, even the government offers ways to make sure your prescription-drug purchasing power is at its peak.

Six strategies to buy drugs for less money

First, let’s look at the strategies for lowering your overall pharmaceutical bill:

  • Ask your doctor if there are equally effective, less expensive options (such as generics)
  • Be honest with your doctor about the financial burden of your medications, and see if there are samples you can get.
  • Apply for pharmaceutical companies’ assistance programs (your annual income must be less than $21,000)
  • Make your co-pay go further with a prescription for three months of pills
  • Ask for a larger dosage (for example, a 5 mg pill instead of a 2.5 mg pill), then cut pills in half (you must check with both your doctor and your pharmacist to make sure the prescription is equally effective in this form)
  • See if your pharmacy has a customer program; often for a few dollars “membership fee” you can get all your prescriptions at a discount.

The Medicare website also has a handy list of articles and tools to help you—and Benefits Checkup links to discount and cost-savings programs.

Two ways to find the same drugs for less

Sooner or later you are still going to actually have to buy that medicine. Short of getting on a bus to Canada, how do you make sure you got the best deal? Comparison shopping on the internet, of course.

  • Good Rx is a prescription drug price comparison tool that mines data from every pharmacy nationwide. Essentially, it is Expedia for drugs. You can simply enter each medication you take, and see which pharmacy is offering it for the least money.  It will show results both in your neighborhood and by mail-order; you can also compare how pricing differs for higher or multiple doses (is there a bulk discount?). Bonus: If you search for a name-brand drug GoodRx will also automatically show you the generic version, too.
  • RxNetwork is another online platform that helps you find the best local price for your prescription. A relatively new site, its data base is not yet complete—but it does have a handy feature that searches for coupons, rebates and vouchers from manufacturers and local pharmacies.

Choosing the best drug plan for your drugs

Different drug coverage plans cover different types of drugs. A low-cost plan may not cover certain medications (or have an exorbitant deductible for them); a higher cost plan may offer as a perk coverage of expensive medication you don’t take. No benefit there. The great thing about being able to choose your drug coverage plan is the ability to choose the plan that is best for you. The disadvantage is that can take a lot of legwork. Happily, Medicare itself is poised to help.

  • Gather a list of ALL your prescription medications.
  • Visit the Medicare PlanFinder or phone 1800.MEDICARE.
  • Enter all your medications to see which plan offers the most complete coverage for you.

Share your ideas

While we have tried to be thorough here, we are equally sure that people have found other great resources. If you have some, please share them with our readers.