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Save Money on Meds — Safely

How to cut monthly prescription costs without putting your health at risk.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

The cost of medications can add up. If you’re trying to save money, you may be tempted to skip doses or not fill a new prescription — this can be dangerous. There are ways to safely save money on medications without putting your health at risk.

Below are some approaches that you may hear about. Discuss any choices with your doctor or pharmacist.

Use generic medications. Many brand-name medications have low-cost generic alternatives that work in a similar way. They can cost 30 to 80 percent less than brand-name counterparts. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you decide if a generic alternative is right for you.

Use a similar medication with a lower copay. Sometimes there are similar medications with lower copays that can treat your medical condition. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you decide which lower copay medication is right for you.

Use mail order. Mail order pharmacy offers many advantages including:

  • Possible savings
  • Very accurate prescription filling from an accredited source
  • Convenience of having medications shipped to your address at no additional charge

Depending on your pharmacy benefit, you may be able to get a 90-day supply of medications by mail order at lower average monthly cost than at retail pharmacies. You’ll need a new prescription from your doctor for a 90-day supply. Call the customer service number on the back of your benefit card for more details.

Get a medication review. Many people take a number of different medications from more than one provider. It can be hard to keep track of them all, and you may be taking medications you don’t need. You should keep a current list of all the medications you are taking to share with your providers at each visit. Depending on your benefit, you may be able to schedule a medication review with a pharmacist (if medication consult services are available).

Splitting tablets. Splitting pills is generally not advocated as a way to save money on medications. Not all pills are designed to be split, as this can be dangerous. Also, depending on your benefits, splitting tablets may or may not save you money. Make sure to ask your doctor if pill splitting is appropriate for your medications.

Do not buy drugs from foreign countries. Experts warn that this practice can have serious health risks. There is no guarantee you’re getting the right drug or the right dose. The drug supplied could be dangerous. Even if it’s not harmful, you could be paying good money for something that is useless for your condition.

Do not buy drugs from Internet sites that are not accredited. Many recognized health plans have online pharmacies. Numerous legitimate U.S. pharmacies sell medicines online, but many other fraudulent websites exist. These sell unapproved drugs that can put your health at risk. How can you to tell? The Food and Drug Administration offers these tips for spotting an unsafe website:

  • Missing “VIPPS” logo on their homepage, and not on the NABP VIPPS list (http://www.nabp.net/programs/accreditation/vipps/find-a-vipps-online-pharmacy)
  • Offering drugs at prices that are significantly lower than traditional sources
  • Offering prescription drugs without a prescription, which is both illegal and dangerous
  • Giving no phone contact that allows you to talk to a real person or a licensed pharmacist

Assistance Programs: After you have tried the strategies listed above, there are organizations/resources that may be able to help.

  • Needy Meds: www.needymeds.org
  • Partnership for Prescription Assistance: www.pparx.org
  • RXAssist: www.rxassist.org
  • RXHope: www.rxhope.com
  • Social Security Administration: Part D Assistance/ Low Income Subsidy: www.ssa.gov

Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble paying for medication. He or she may suggest other ways that can help.

Sources:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Saving money on prescription meds. Accessed: October 13, 2015.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Best practices for tablet splitting. Accessed: October 13, 2015.
National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Find a VIPPS online pharmacy. Accessed: October 13, 2015.

Last Updated: October 16, 2015