How to Lower Prescription Drug Costs

In the past five years, over 100 popular drugs have seen price increases averaging 400%. The escalation in prices for life-saving drugs can impact the quality of life for millions of Americans, especially seniors, who do not have rising incomes to compete with the higher prescription drug prices. The rise in drug prices not only applies to new treatments, but also common brand name and generic alternative medications that have been on the market for decades. For example, insulin, which was first made available in 1922, has seen a price increase from $162 a cartridge to $306 from 2012 to 2016. If you carry a high deductible policy, you could pay the $306 out of pocket for months before getting any help from insurance.

One of the biggest challenges with rising drug prices is the corresponding out-of-pocket costs consumers must absorb. It used to be that insurance paid the bulk of prescription drug costs, leaving drug companies to raise prices without public outcry. Today, consumers face higher deductibles, higher co-pays, and policies which cover less and have shorter formularies of acceptable drugs. The result is more consumers must pay full price for medications, paying thousands out of pocket, before insurance coverage ever kicks in.

When you rely on prescription drugs to maintain your quality of life, saving money on these costs is important.. Here are a few ways to ensure you are paying the least amount for medical treatment and prescription drugs.

Ways to Partner with Your Doctor

  • Ask for samples. When you begin a new treatment, medical professionals can often provide 15 to 30 days’ worth of medication as a trial. The samples ensure you respond favorably to the treatment before issuing a long-term prescription. In some cases, doctors can offer free samples for the regular medication you take.
  • Request a higher dose. Doubling the dose of a pill prescription typically only costs incrementally more than a traditional dose. By raising the strength of the medication, you can cut the pill in half and extend a 30-day supply to 60 days. You cannot split all pills safely, but it is worth talking with your doctor to see if it is an option.
  • Get a 90-day prescription. Doctors specify whether you can obtain enough medication for one or three months. A 90-day prescription allows you to pay the co-pay once a quarter, instead of monthly. The longer time frame also gives you the option to refill your medication through insurance approved online pharmacies at a lower cost to you.
  • Know what’s on your insurance company’s formulary. Not all co-pays are the same for all medications. When there are multiple options, your doctor can choose the most affordable one based on the acceptable medications list provided by your insurer.
  • Look into over-the-counter options. You can now purchase many medications that were once in prescription strength, over the counter. Have a conversation with your doctor about potential options that can reduce your drug costs without requiring a prescription. Pharmacists are also an excellent resource for finding solutions through over-the-counter medicine.
  • Go generic. Frequently, medications that have been on the market for a few decades offer an equivalent generic alternative and you can save up to 85% off the cost of medication by foregoing the name brand. Some doctors automatically list, a recommended medication or its generic counterpart, but it is always best to ask if this is an option for lowering the cost of your medicine.

Ways to Partner with Your Pharmacist

In addition to medical professionals, pharmacists are sensitive to the escalating prices of prescription drugs. It can be hard to explain why a needed medication rose in price by 50% overnight and they look for ways to help consumers get the medication they need. Three ways a pharmacy can lower the cost of medication include:

  1. Check out online options. Online pharmacies are a place to reduce long-term costs and often offer 90-day prescriptions as a standard refill option for the medication you need regularly. Before committing to an online pharmacy, verify that they are VIPPS certified to ensure you are getting the same quality and brand of prescription drugs you need.
  2. Compare prices among local pharmacies. Not all pharmacies charge the same amount. When insurance paid the bill, it didn’t matter where you went because you paid the same co-pay regardless of who you used. Today, with more consumers paying full price out-of-pocket, where you fill your prescription matters. Apps like GoodRX will identify the cheapest pharmacy in your neighborhood. It is best to purchase all your medications from the same pharmacy to ensure you do not take incompatible drugs at the same time.
  3. Ask for coupons, rebates, or other discounts. Many drug companies offer help with the high cost of medication and make them available through your pharmacist. The drug company website is another source for finding discounts and rebates for the medications you need.

Tax Advantaged Savings

Fund a flexible spending or HSA account. Both of these accounts lower taxable income by the amount you deposit, in the year of the contribution. The HSA account allows you to rollover dollars from year to year, where most Flexible Spending accounts require you to utilize all the funds in the account by December 31. Either way, you can save 25% or more depending on your tax bracket, so long as you use the funds for qualified healthcare costs, which include prescription drugs and some over the counter medications.

Discount programs and pharmacy discount cards such as AARP can help lower out-of-pocket costs for filling prescriptions. The high cost of medications results in an estimated 1 in 5 prescriptions written going un-filled. That worries medical professionals because it results in consumers not getting needed treatment, which can lead to more complications down the road.

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