2007-04-11 / Seniors

How to Save On Your Medications

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend some tips that can help lower my prescription medication costs? I'm 58 years old and currently take four drugs that I can barely afford. What can you tell me?

Underinsured Susan

Dear Susan:

For the millions who are uninsured or underinsured, there are several ways you can reduce your medication costs without cutting quality. The following tips can also help seniors with a Medicare prescription drug plan avoid their "doughnut hole" coverage gap, or reduce their costs once they reach it.

Cost Cutters

Most people don't comparison shop for their prescription drugs. They get a prescription from a doctor, go to their favorite pharmacy to fill it, and usually don't even ask the price. But you can save money- sometimes lots- if you shop around. Drug prices can vary significantly from pharmacy to pharmacy, and shopping online (it's your best tool!) can be especially convenient and effective. Here are some cost cutting tips that may help:

+ Buy generic: Generic drugs are as safe as brand-name medications and typically cost 30 to 80 percent less. Ask your doctor if the medication you're taking is available in generic form or check online at www.rxaminer.com. Discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Target are currently offering great deals, charging only $4 for a 30-day supply, while Kmart offers a 90-day supply for $15. Costco also offers low cost generics to its members.

+ Ask about cheaper alternatives: Even if your drug doesn't have a generic equivalent, there may be an older, less expensive brand-name drug your doctor can prescribe. Brand-name drugs on the market for seven or more years are up to 40 percent cheaper than newer ones, and studies show that older drugs are just as effective.

+ Ask about free samples: Many doctors have extra supplies of medications in their offices and are willing to help out patients in need.

+ Buy in bulk: Many pharmacies give discounts if you buy a three month supply of drugs at once versus a 30-day supply.

+ Split your pills: Ask your doctor about cutting your pills in half. Pill splitting allows you to get two months' worth of medicine for the price of one, but not all pills can be split. Splitting devices are available in most pharmacies, or for those hard to split pills see www.precisionpillsplitters.com.

+ Shop online: Using online or mailorder pharmacies is another way to cut costs - often 25 percent or more. A top resource for finding U.S.-based pharmacies offering the lowest prices is www.destinationrx. com- click on "Price Compare". (Tip: Make sure the online pharmacy you're buying from has the "VIPPS" seal of approval- see www.vipps.info). Seniors enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug plan also need to make sure the online pharmacy they're buying from is included in their network. Otherwise, the purchase may not count toward their deductible.

+ Buy from Canada: This option offers huge savings- 30 and 80 percent- on brandname drugs and you'll be happy to know that the U.S. Customs office has eased import restrictions so you don't need to worry that your pills will get seized at the border. If you're interested, see www.pharmacychecker. com, an independent resource that finds the lowest prices from licensed and reputable Canadian pharmacies. (Note: This is not a good option for Medicare Part D enrollees because it will not count toward their deductible.)

+ Seek extra help: If your income is limited, you can probably get help with your drug cost through pharmaceutical patient assistance programs (see www.rxassist.org and www.pparx.org), state pharmacy assistance programs, Medicare's extra help, national and local charitable programs and more. To find out if you're eligible for these programs visit www.benefitscheckuprx.org. Other good resources to see are www.needymeds.com and www. medicarerights.org- click on "Discount Rx Resources".

+ Get a discount card: Many pharmacies offer drug discount cards to people with and without coverage, regardless of income. The cards may be free or carry a small upfront fee. (If the fee is large, don't buy it.) These are essentially store "loyalty" cards that can cut your costs by 10 to 25 percent, but not all drugs are eligible for discount. Other resources offering discount cards that are worth a look are www.familywize.com, www.togetherrxaccess.com and www.aarppharmacy. com.

+ Check out Bid for Rx: This is a new Web resource (www.bidforrx.com) where licensed pharmacies compete to fill your prescriptions.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the "NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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