Medicare can help to cover many of your medical costs as you age, such as medically necessary doctor visits, blood tests and hospital stays, but it doesn’t cover everything. In fact, people on a fixed income, especially senior citizens, find themselves struggling to pay their prescription drug co-pays, even if they’re on Medicare. If you’re on Medicare and your prescription drug costs are taking a toll on your monthly income, here are five simple steps you can take to cut your out-of-pocket payments for prescription drugs.
#1 – Sometimes, Less Is More
Doctors are sometimes quick to prescribe the newest medications available for any medical condition that comes along, and they might not consider the financial burden that those drugs can take on middle- to low-income patients. If your doctor recommends a new prescription medication, talk to him about alternative options, such as trying a change of lifestyle or diet, or an older generic that offers similar benefits.
Don’t hesitate to mention concerns about drug costs. Since many prescription drugs have adverse side effects, it may be in your best interest to try and reduce the number of medications you take anyway, but only with your doctor’s approval. Your doctor may actually be encouraged by your willingness to try a change of lifestyle before opting for a new medication. If your doctor insists that your condition is serious enough to warrant a new drug prescription, you will need to seek other means of reducing costs.
#2 — What’s in a Name?
One of the most effective ways to cut costs on your prescription drugs is to buy generic medication. There’s no reason to fear that generic versions of name-brand prescription drugs are any less safe, effective or potent than the brand-name versions. In fact, FDA-approved generic drugs are guaranteed by law to be equal in safety and effectiveness to their original brand-name counterparts. They include the same dosages and are used in the exact same way as name-brand drugs.
After a 12- to 15-year period, once the original patent on a drug has expired, drug companies are free to make generic versions of brand-name prescription drugs. The fact that the patent-protected time period is so long should give those purchasing generic drugs extra reassurance. Drugs that have been around long enough to have been developed into generics have a proven track record of effectiveness and safety.
So there’s no reason whatsoever to spend a penny more on those expensive brand-name drugs. If your doctor prescribes a new medication for you, immediately ask if there is a generic version available. If you forget to ask while you’re at the appointment, just ask your pharmacist when you go to fill the prescription. You could be amazed at the amount you’re able to save. In fact, using generic drugs instead of name-brand drugs could reduce your prescription drug costs by two-thirds.
#3 – Shop ‘Til You Drop
If you’re like many patients, then you probably choose your pharmacy based on convenience, specifically how close it is to your home or doctor’s office. But shopping around could help you save money, even accounting for the extra gas it takes to go out of your way. You might be surprised to learn that prescriptions aren’t standardized by pharmacy, meaning one pharmacy might charge a much lower cost than another. Switching pharmacies could lower your monthly drug costs.
Thanks to the internet, you don’t even have to limit yourself to a brick-and-mortar store when it comes to comparison shopping. There are a number of reputable online pharmacy sites that you can use to buy prescription drugs. A word of caution is in order, however. Unfortunately, scammers create shady websites to try to peddle expired or even fake medications on unsuspecting consumers. It’s important to go with a reputable prescription drug distributor if you choose to shop online. Here are a couple red flags:
- The site doesn’t require a prescription to send you prescription drugs. Believe it or not, some sites don’t require a valid prescription, which is a giant red flag that the site is fake.
- You don’t see clearly defined prices anywhere. A scammer site will be elusive about its pricing while legitimate sites clearly show you upfront what you’re buying and how much it costs.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy keeps a list of Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites. Though not an exhaustive list of all the legitimate pharmacy sites on the internet, online pharmacies that choose to apply for and obtain VIPPS membership status have taken important steps to prove their legitimacy and safety. You can check the current VIPPS-Accredited Pharmacies List to see if an online pharmacy you’re considering purchasing your medications from has the NABP stamp of approval.
#4 – State-based Savings
Depending on where you live, you may be able to apply for and obtain a state discount for your prescriptions. Some states have significant savings options available for seniors enrolled in Medicare. You can contact your State Health Insurance Program to learn what possible drug benefits you may qualify for in your state. The following contact information can help you locate helpful services in your area:
- Phone: 1-800-677-1116
- Website: www.eldercare.gov
#5 – Straight to the Source
Discounts abound for many prescriptions. When a new drug gets introduced, it’s expensive, but pharmaceutical companies are looking to recoup the cost to manufacture it, so you may find discounts on old and new drugs alike straight from the manufacturer. You can contact Partnership for Prescription Assistance to see if you may qualify for some of these cost-saving plans. You can also contact your local health department to find out if there are any other special discounts available in your area. Another potentially helpful option for veterans in need of low-cost prescription medications would be to check with a health care facility run by you’re the Veterans’ Administration.
Though the cost of prescription drugs can seem overwhelming, especially for those living on a fixed income, there are many ways to cut costs. Don’t be shy about discussing your prescription drug budget with your doctor and pharmacist. Your doctor may even have samples to offer that could save on some of your costs. With a little effort and research on your part, you could trim down your prescription expenses to a more manageable level.