Tips to help patients save money on prescriptions

As a primary care doc, I have compiled several tips to help patients save money on prescriptions.

All the prices quoted in the following examples are from Costco.

1. Patient assistance programs (PAP). Try to get free meds from the pharmaceutical company that manufactures your medication. Most of the time this service is only offered if there is not a generic available for your medicine. I heartily recommend you check out NeedyMeds.org and see if a Patient Assistance Program (aka PAP) exists for your medication.

I like the NeedyMeds.org site a lot because, to my knowledge, it is not sponsored by Big Pharma, unlike some of the others. Of course, this means the site is not as slick-looking as AstraZeneca’s RxAssist.org or Merck’s PatientAssistance.com. I also like that NeedyMeds.org is more of a “one-stop shopping” experience, in that all the drug company PAP application forms are available at one site.

2. Pill splitting. No joke — this trick can save you  big money if you are willing to put up with the minor inconvenience of cutting your meds. The concept is that you buy a double strength dose of the medicine that you normally take, and then cut the pill in half to provide two doses for (roughly) the price of one.

Lipitor 20 mg, #30 tabs — $122/month OR

Lipitor 40 mg, #30 tabs –  $123 (but lasts for TWO months because you are taking a 1/2 tab per day) — $62/mo

But you first have to ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to cut your medications. We also offer info on whether a pill is splittable on LesliesList.org Prescription Price Comparison search results’ pages. Usually coated pills, controlled-release pills and capsules may not be cut. Also, in order to cut pills as accurately as possible, I recommend that you purchase a pill-cutter from the pharmacy. Last time I asked they cost about two dollars and can be reused hundreds of times.

3. Mail-order pharmacies. Consider this option only if you have faith in your local mail service. There are some reader recommendations for mail-order pharmacies in the Community Section of LesliesList.org, but I cannot personally vouch for them, as I have no experience with them. If you decide to go this route there are quite a few “price-scraper” websites that do comparison pricing of online pharmacies for you. A couple of notables: PharmacyChecker.com and Pillbot.com.

Leslie Ramirez is an internal medicine physician and founder of Leslie’s List, which provides information that enables all patients, but especially the uninsured and underinsured, to find more affordable medications and health care services.

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  • Danimal

    Don’t forget the biggie — Walmart (et al)’s $4 prescription program. Docs just can’t keep track of what’s cheap where, so go in to your next appointment with a printout of the formulary, broken down by drug class. Ask your doc if one of those meds would work as well as your current.

  • BladeDoc

    #4 Ask if there is a med that is either AS effective but cheaper or ALMOST as effective but a lot cheaper. If people knew the absolute risk of some of the diseases that they take meds for they would be a lot less likely to pay a lot to prevent them. For a surgical example look at carotid endarterectomy for asymptomatic disease. When you talk to a patient you tell them it cuts the risk of stroke in half but the actual risk is 4% down to 1-2%. How many people would actually pony up even $10K for that benefit?

  • ninguem

    Good work, Leslie. You do more constructive work for healthcare than Hillary and Obama put together.

  • http://www.stevebalt.com SteveBMD

    Be careful with Patient Assistance Programs. I have been told by representatives from two pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca) that medications they provide to patients free-of-charge (including samples AND PAPs) will be reported as “payments” to physicians under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act and will be posted on their web sites starting this summer.

    One rep even told me that doctors will be “taxed” on these “payments.” I find that incredibly hard to believe– and she most likely misspoke– but until I get clarification from any pharmaceutical company that I will not be taxed, I will not enroll my patients in PAPs.

  • doc99

    Besides WalMart, Target and Stop & Shop also have Generic Drug Plans.

  • charlie dickens

    Walmart’s drug list is increasing and the drugs are a great value! Cheaper than using a prescription plan from your insurance….

  • Finn

    If it’s not on one of these $4 generics list, try Costco. You don’t have to be a member to use the pharmacy & their prices are listed online.

  • ninguem

    Probably most people know this, but what the heck, it might help someone, so I’ll add this………

    The drug companies often price a drug the same price per pill, regardless of dose. Their cost is tooling-up the factory, regulatory, legal, distribution, and all that. By the time you’re done, the cost of the raw material of the drug is microscopic. So they just price all the pills the same price,

    If two bananas cost twice as much as one banana, you’d think the 20-mg pill would cost twice as much as the 10-mg pill. Sometimes, but often they’re the same price.

    Usually, it’s OK to split the pill and just take half. Ask the doc and the pharmacist if it’s OK. There are some drugs and pills where this is not a good idea.

    So, if you need a 10-mg pill, ask for a 20-mg pill and split it in half. You get the drug half price.

    Just reminded my own doc to do that with a medicine for my family member, last week. I’ve got a health savings account.

    • ninguem

      Sheesh, I can’t believe I missed that paragraph. I need glasses or somethin’

      You covered that. Never mind.

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