Savvy Senior: How to save money on prescription drug costs

Jim Miller: Talking to doctor or pharmacist about cheaper options can help with drug expenses.
BY JIM MILLER Published: March 6, 2012
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DEAR SAVVY SENIOR:

What tips can you recommend to help me save on my drug costs? I'm 62 years old, and currently take six different prescription medications that I barely can afford.

Poorly Insured

DEAR POORLY:

There are actually a variety of ways you can reduce your medication costs without cutting quality, but you'll need to take a proactive approach. These tips can also help seniors with a Medicare prescription drug plan avoid the “doughnut hole” coverage gap, or reduce their costs once they reach it. Here are some cost-cutting strategies to try.

Check your insurance: If you have drug coverage, your first step is to find out what your plan does and doesn't cover. You can do this by visiting the insurer's website or by calling their 800 number on the back of your insurance card. Once you have this information, share it with your doctor so (if possible) he or she can prescribe medications that are best covered by your plan. You also need to find out if your insurer has a mail-order service. This would help you to purchase your medications for 20 to 40 percent less.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist: Find out if the medications you're taking are available in a generic form or a less expensive brand-name drug (you can also look this up online at sites like destinationrx.com). About 75 percent of all premium drugs on the market today have a lower-cost alternative. Switching could save you between 20 and 90 percent. Many chains such as Walmart, Target, Costco, Kmart, CVS, Walgreens and Kroger sell hundreds of generics for as little as $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply.

Buy your medications in bulk: Many pharmacies give discounts if you buy a three-month supply of drugs versus a 30-day supply. Also, find out if the pills you're taking can be cut in half. Pill splitting allows you to get two months' worth of medicine for the price of one.

Shop around: Drug prices can vary from drugstore to drugstore, so it's definitely worth your time to compare prices at different pharmacies. Using U.S.-based online pharmacies are another way to save 25 percent or more. Drugstore.com and familymeds.com are two sites that provide solid savings, but there are dozens to choose from. If you opt for an online pharmacy, be sure you purchase from ones that have the “VIPPS” seal of approval (see vipps.info) from the National Association of Board of Pharmacy. Seniors enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug plan also need to make sure the online pharmacy they're buying from is included in their network. Otherwise, the purchase may not count toward their deductible.

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