Keeping Medications Cost Effective

Over half of all senior citizens take three or more medications per day. A report released by AARP shows that over the past several years, drug costs have been rising at a rate faster than normal inflation. The study focused on the price of medications that are most frequently prescribed to the elderly.

A 2011 survey conducted by The Senior Citizen’s League discovered that 44% of respondents struggle to pay for their prescribed medications. Your loved one may also be feeling the pinch of expensive drug prices but, fortunately, there are safe ways to decrease these costs and make medications a little bit more affordable.

Talk to Doctors About Lowering Costs

A doctor’s primary responsibility is his/her patient’s health, so many medical professionals write prescriptions without considering the cost of the medications. If paying for multiple prescriptions has become difficult for your loved one, be sure to share this information with his or her doctors. There are potentially many ways that your loved one’s medication use can be adapted for maximum affordability.

However, essential medications should never be eliminated or altered for the sole purpose of lowering costs. It’s not worth saving money if it comes at the expense of your loved one’s health! However, a doctor who is sworn to do no harm may still find ways to help a senior citizen in financial need. The first step might be to look over the individual’s medication list to see if every drug prescribed is useful and necessary. A doctor may also be able to replace expensive medications with cheaper varieties in the same class that are equally effective. 

Many of the cost-saving ideas in this article will require the doctor’s cooperation when writing out prescriptions, so it is important to be honest with medical staff about the desire to lower drug costs.

Buy Generic

Buying generic medications can save as much as 80% of the brand name cost. But what is a generic drug? In a nutshell, pharmaceutical companies put lots of time and money into the research, development and testing of medications designed to effectively treat an illness. In exchange for these efforts, the company is granted a patent that will allow them exclusive rights to their formula (brand-name drugs) for a time period deemed long enough to re-coup their investment capital.

Once this patent has expired, any drug manufacturer is free to reproduce the formula, and with no research money personally invested, these companies can compete to offer the medication to consumers at the lowest possible price (generic drugs). Generic drugs must be FDA approved, and they contain exactly the same ingredients as the original brand. There should be no concern about encouraging the purchase of generic medications, but remember that a doctor must sign off to allow a generic substitution when writing each prescription.

Use the drug comparison tool on the DRX website to find generic equivalents to the medications your loved one is taking. If no generic version exists, ask the doctor about the possibility of switching to a similar drug in the same class.

If the doctor strongly recommends an expensive, non-generic medication, ask for free samples to test the effectiveness of the drug before your loved one commits to buying. These are almost always available from the manufacturer, and the doctor generally keeps a supply of samples in stock.

Choose the Right Pharmacy

Some people do not realize that there is no mandatory charge for specific drugs, and pharmacies are allowed to set their own pricing tiers. It could pay to shop around – with your loved one’s medication list in hand – to find the local pharmacy that offers the best prices for his or her prescriptions. Large chain stores, such as Wal-Mart, Target and Costco, have drug programs that advertise vast varieties of generic medications at a cost of only $4 for a 30-day supply. Also, many pharmacies will provide loyal customers with a prescription savings card.

However, you should not farm out prescriptions to different pharmacies because of lower costs for certain drugs. It’s important to keep all of your loved one’s prescriptions in one place because the pharmacist will be able to alert you to possible issues with adverse drug interactions.

Once you’ve found the pharmacy with the best all-round affordability, don’t be shy about asking the staff to price-match in cases where another vendor is selling a certain drug at a lower cost.

Mail-Order and Online Pharmacies

Although you are giving up the chance to form a friendly relationship with your loved one’s pharmacist, the Internet is often a cheaper source for purchasing medications than your local pharmacy. However, it is essential to use caution when selecting an online or mail-order dealer for medications. NEVER be tempted to purchase cheap medications from overseas pharmacies! Not only is this practice illegal, but it is also dangerous for the consumer. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

“In 2011, the U.S. and 80 other countries launched a worldwide operation targeting rogue Internet pharmacies. Within 10 days, almost 13,500 web sites were shut down and 2.4 million illegal and counterfeit pills from 48 countries were confiscated.”

Safe and reliable online pharmacies are marked with a VIPPS seal. This stands for Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy provides a useful database of all VIPPS members in the United States.

If you are obtaining your loved one’s medications from a non-local source, make sure that you stay organized and allow time for order processing and shipping. Don’t leave your elderly friend or relative without a plentiful supply of essential medications. 

Ninety-Day Prescriptions

Many pharmacies and drug plans also give steep discounts to customers who buy their drugs in bulk. Once your loved one is established with a medication that works, talk to the doctor about writing future prescriptions for 90-day supplies, instead of only 30-days. Many mail-order pharmacies will only dispense medication in a 90-day supply.

Pill Splitting

Some people are able to lower medication costs by arranging for prescriptions that allow them to split their pills in half. For example, if your loved one takes 40 mg of a drug twice a day, you might be able to double his or her supply by ordering twice as many 80 mg pills at almost the same price.

Always discuss this idea carefully with the doctor, as not all drugs can be safely cut in half. Be sure that your loved one knows which pills to take whole and which must be split. Also, be aware that your loved one may not be dexterous enough to divide the pills without help. The best practice is to split the medications in advance, immediately after each new prescription is obtained.

Medicare Prescription Drug Plans

If your loved one receives benefits from Medicare, this coverage can open up a variety of options for reducing the costs of medications. It is very important to understand Medicare  coverage and to choose the plan that fits best with your loved one’s needs. Unfortunately, the Medicare system can be difficult to navigate. Your best bet is to seek help from experts in the field of Medicare comprehension. There are also cost-free ways to get quality assistance.

Start by reading through DRX’s Medicare 101 Guide. Next, visit the Benefits Check Up website to enter specific information about your loved one. If these sources do not answer all of your questions, seek out one of your local

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs). SHIP programs will set you up with a counselor who can help you and your loved one understand Medicare benefits, along with making knowledgeable recommendations on plans and options. Many online resources will guide you to a local office. Try www.medicare.org or www.shiptalk.org.

Drug Cost Assistance Programs

If your loved one qualifies for assistance with paying for medications, there are numerous programs in place to help reduce costs. Many of these are supported by pharmaceutical companies, but others are national or community projects. Try this list of websites to research your loved one’s eligibility and options: 

Written by senior care writer Mack Fritch.