Medical costs are on the rise and, if you're anything like me, can add up in no time at all. I know that I'm not the average patient when it comes to my annual medical spend (I hit the max every year... thank you chronic illness) but even low utilizers can find themselves paying more than they should for medical care. I wanted to take a few minutes today to pass along a few ways to make sure you are getting the best deal on your medications- the bulk of most people's annual medical cost.
If you haven't yet read my post about questions to ask before choosing a medical plan please click over as the number one way to save money on medications is simply to understand your medical and prescription drug plan.
1. FSA and HSA Plans
Flexible Spending Plans (FSA) and Health Savings Plans (HSA) are accounts you are able to put money into on a per paycheck basis for medical bills on a pre-tax basis. If you have these plans available to you a strongly suggest that you explore those plans and run the numbers in various scenarios as they can save you a lot of money each year. In the case of HSAs they can also let you invest for future health care costs in retirement as well plus both of these plans lower your taxable income which is a plus.
2. Try a Sample First
When you are prescribed a new medication you are typically given a script for a month's supply. Sometimes that new medication simply doesn't work out due to negative side effects or incorrect dosage and the rest of the prescription is wasted as you can no longer take it and have to get a new prescription. This waste- or resources and money- can be stopped by asking for a sample from your doctor before filling th prescription. They can often give you a week or even a month of medication for free to try before you buy as it were. If it works for you- awesome, less money out of pocket for something you love. If not- at least you didn't spend money on something you won't use.
3. Check Your Insurance Program's App
The insurance program's app is often under utilized. Heading to the app can give you an e-card if you don't have a physical card with you can be helpful but they often have price comparison guides, lists of covered medications, contact buttons, and more just a click away so that you can check before you even leave the doctor's office what your costs are going to come out to (estimated of course).
4. Switch to Generics
Generic medications are not the exact same formulation as the name brand but they are very similar and depending on your other medications, treatment needs, allergies, and etc. you could very easily be taking a generic form of a medication and see no difference whatsoever- other than big savings. There are circumstances where people are not able to tolerate one generic form of a medication or must take a specific brand name medication and those circumstance would out weigh the financial situation but the chances are that you can, and should switch to generics whenever possible.
Example (according to GoodRx): EpiPen
5. Ask About OTC Options
If you are on a pricey drug and have seen medications on the shelf at Wal-Mart that claim to treat the same ailment your prescription is treating you might need to switch to that over the counter (OTC) medication. Check with your doctor before making any medication switches as there may be other ingredients or drug interactions that are at play. I am currently on 3 OTC medications that the doctor has included in my daily treatment plan. This does mean that those costs -are not included in my deductible or out-of-pocket max though so I personally pay more per year due to this but I hit that max every year with my medical conditions... for the average consumer this will be more likely to help their budget than hurt it. Run the numbers to find out though and you may even be able to do this in reverse if there is a covered prescription drug rather than the OTC version.
6. Check Your Dosage Options
Just because the medication is double the strength doesn't mean that it is double the cost. Ask your doctor if the medication you are taking two times a day is available in a scored tablet for twice the dosage. If it is you may be able to split the pills yourself each day and save money. Its important to ask if your medication can be split or not as extended release medications, caplets and some other medications cannot be split safely.
7. Price Compare
You may think that the price of your medication will be the same no matter where you pick it up due to your insurance card but that's not actually true sadly. Your insurance provider negotiates the prices of medications with these distributors so the cost varies by where you get your medications. There are apps out there whose sole purpose is to show you the cost of your medications at various pharmacies so that you can make an informed decision on where you fill your medication prescriptions. Combined with your insurance and any coupons you may have or be able to get through any of the options below you could save a lot of money and even get some medications for free!
On this note... you should also ask how much it costs in cash, without insurance when getting medications. Sometimes it can be cheaper without insurance or you can use a coupon you couldn't with insurance to get a better deal. Be aware that going outside your insurance company means that it doesn't count towards the deductibles and out-of-pocket maxes so it may not actually be a better deal long term but depending on your situation it could save you money to go this route.
8. Mail Order/Bulk Delivery
Often times you can get a discount on the medications you take every month by having your doctor write you a script for 90 days rather than 30 days. You can have this 90 day prescription filled by an online pharmacy and shipped directly to your house saving you money on gas as well as the cheaper-per-dose prices for ordering in bulk. I typically use the one my insurance recommends but there are cheaper alternatives sometimes... just be very careful if you do this to verify the legitimacy and legality of having that particular pharmacy ship you your medications.
9. Coupons & Patient Assistant Programs
Bet you didn't know you could coupon medications. You totally can! Not every medication has a coupon or program available but a quick Google search of "Medication + Coupon" or "Medication + Patient Assistance" could net you big savings. I personally am enrolled in a program that pays most of my costs for a medication that costs over $2,000 per month up to $10,000 per year as well as using a coupon for my annual Epi-Pen (generic brand, of course). I have also had coupons for free inhalers and other medications. Many of these coupons and programs have requirements and stipulations (such as being under a certain income, having or not having a certain type of insurance or etc.) and an approval processes but taking the extra time to fill out the forms could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year. The coupons might get you a discounted rate on the medication, a rebate for your medications if you mail in the receipt, or even free medication for a limited time. Most of these are from manufacturers so you do have to get the exact brand which isn't always the easiest to do but its worth it. My pharmacy is special ordering the generic Epi-Pen that I have a coupon for so that I can get the lowest possible price for my necessary medications, it will take a few extra days or maybe even a week but I'm willing to wait as those savings add up.
10. Prescription Savings Cards
This one is one that I will tell you to be careful with. While you can save money at point-of-sale for your medications potentially you may be going around your insurance plan to do so. Doing this means that it isn't being counted in your deductible and out-of-pocket amounts so, like moving to OTC medications, it may actually cost you more in the end if you are going to be getting up towards that out-of-pocket maximum amount by the end of the year so run the numbers and make sure you're making the best decision before you do this. Some cards don't go outside the insurance and work the same as a coupon though... just be careful and ask the Pharmacist to explain all your options and how it will interact with your insurance plan before choosing this option.
11. Pharmacy Discount Plans
Pharmacies are always trying to get customers in the door and need repeat business just like any other business so they often will have discount programs for their customers that they run... especially big-box stores like Kroger and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has a $4 prescription plan for instance for a 30 day supply of medications for a list 2 pages long. If you are taking one of these medications then it would be a good choice to consider them for filling it. They make money off the other medications you fill with them as a repeat customer so it makes sense for them and it makes sense for you as its cheaper. One thing to note here is that if you are getting medications at different pharmacies you should make sure that they all know all medications you are taking. If they don't they can't give you important information about drug interactions or valuable suggestions on alternative options. They may even be able to match price with the pharmacy you are getting your other medication from if you let them know that's why you aren't getting all of your medications from them.
12. State Subsidies and Other Care Plans
Depending on your situation you may qualify for additional assistance from the federal or state government. If you think this could apply to you it is important you reach out to to their assistance agencies to find out if you qualify. These programs are often limited to those in lower income brackets, on other assistance programs, enrolled in Medicare or etc. but looking at all of your options is an important part of advocating for the best possible care you can get.
13. Talk to Your Doctor...
If you have a question about why you are being given a specific medication or if there are alternative options then the best person to ask is your doctor. Being open with them and discussing the financial implications of your treatment plan is the first step towards being an informed, involved participant in your own care which is what we all should strive to become. If you let your doctor know that X medication is higher priced than you can afford and ask for alternatives they can help. Often they are not aware of medication costs as they are not involved in the negotiations your insurance company has annually with drug manufacturing companies, but once they are aware they can help you find an alternative treatment option that is a better fit financially but also works for your health management.
14. Ask Your Pharmacist...
The last tip today is simple to ask the pharmacist: is this the cheapest option? They may know of a coupon or other discount that can save you money on the spot.
I've been wading through this costly medical system most of my life but hopefully you won't have to waste as much money as I'm positive I did over the years while still learning about these options with these tips.
Until next time,