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Advice on saving money on prescription drugs

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Jody:

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How to get prescription drugs for less
Drug prices are rising, but you can cut your costs with a little work. Check these money-saving tips, tools and Web sites for comparison shopping.
 
By Bankrate.com

You can't avoid the rapidly rising costs of prescription drugs. Even if you have insurance coverage, costs are increasingly being passed on to consumers as employers raise premiums, drop insurance coverage or shift to high-deductible plans without drug coverage.

The battle to control drug costs will escalate even further as drug companies introduce cutting-edge remedies into the market that promise astonishing results at truly jaw-dropping costs. That new cancer drug that could prolong your life might not do you much good if the insurance company won't cover its $100,000-a-year price tag.

Contrast the bright hopes that such medical breakthroughs promise patients with the many new, but only slightly improved, brand-name drugs that offer treatment for ulcers, high blood pressure and allergies at many times the cost of generic or over-the-counter medicines that produce almost the same results. No wonder consumers are confused.

It's easy to blame the drug companies, the government and retail drug outlets for the hype, high costs and misleading information about prescription drugs. But you can fight back.

"Any patient on maintenance medication needs to openly communicate with his or her physician not only about the prescribed drug and what it is supposed to do, but also about your ability to pay," says Mike Patton, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association. "Too often, these conversations don't happen. But consumers really need to take control of their own health care and find out if there are more affordable alternatives."

Opening a dialogue with your doctor is just the first step. You also need to discuss potential alternative medications with your pharmacist and take advantage of Web sites and services that help you compare the costs of prescription drugs from one outlet to the next. Studies estimate that shopping around can save you anywhere from 30% to 50% on your prescription-drug costs.

Why drugs cost so much
While the percentage increase in the cost of prescription drugs is slowing somewhat, drug prices are still rising faster than overall consumer prices. Between 1995 and 2003, the cost of prescription drugs rose at double-digit rates from year to year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that provides health-care information and analysis.

Factors behind cost increases include a jump in the number of prescriptions being written, the increased use of brand-name drugs and sheer price markups on the part of drug makers, says Chris Robbins, CEO of Arxcel, a prescription-benefit management firm.

"Higher drug utilization has driven new drugs to market, drugs have fewer side effects, people are getting older and we are treating illness more aggressively."

Drug companies spend an average of $802 million to bring the typical drug to market, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. Costs are also affected by drug-company sales, advertising and marketing efforts and pharmacy markups. Recent breakthrough biotechnology drugs can cost insurers and patients from $2,000 to $3,000 per month, Robbins says.

These factors have spurred insurers to bump up prescription drug benefit co-pays in an effort to shift more costs to consumers.

"For years, health care in the U.S. was very paternalistic and there was no discussion between doctors and patients in terms of which drug was best not only for treatment but cost," says Devon Herrick, Ph.D., a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and author of "Shopping for Drugs." "But now tiered co-payments provide an incentive for consumers to ask questions about cost, because if they can get a generic instead of a brand name, their payment will be lower."

Types of drugs available
Prescription drugs aren't the only category of medications on the market. Because cost containment is such an important issue, it's worth considering other options such as over-the-counter drugs and alternative therapies when looking at medications. Here's an overview:

Brand-name drugs. Developed and manufactured by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, brand-name drugs in the United States get patent protection for 17 years and are subject to rigorous testing and approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Generic drugs. Once a brand-name drug goes off patent, other drug companies are legally allowed to manufacture the drug without undergoing FDA testing and approval. Generics typically cost 30% to 80% less than the equivalent brand-name drug, according to the FDA.

Over-the-counter medications. Medications that the FDA approves that can be sold without a doctor's prescription are considered OTC. In some cases, run-of-the-mill, over-the-counter drugs can be just as effective in treating the symptoms of an illness or disease as an expensive brand-name drug.

Alternative remedies. Natural and herbal remedies aren't regulated by the FDA. Standards vary in terms of manufacturing and packaging, and herbal remedies may interact in unexpected ways with medications. Before you take herbal remedies, do some research.

There are different ways to get prescription medicine, including locally owned pharmacies, chain drug or grocery stores, online pharmacies and mail order.

Money-saving tips and tools
As Patton indicates, the process of saving money on your prescriptions begins in your doctor's office. If you are on a number of medications, especially if different doctors prescribe them, make sure that the drugs aren't producing harmful interactions.

Consider these money-saving tips and tools:

At the doctor's office. When your doctor wants to put you on a new medication, ask if it is a brand-name and if there are any generics or over-the-counter drugs that could do the same job. The Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs Web site provides educational videos and in-depth reports of the benefits of drugs and their prices. These reports provide comparisons to drugs in the same class, including generics and OTC medications, and are designed so that you can download them and bring them to your doctor at your next appointment.

If you must have the brand name, ask the doctor if there are any samples you can have so you can see how the drug affects you before you shell out money for an entire month's worth. Albert Wertheimer, Ph.D., director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Health Services Research at the Temple University School of Pharmacy, recommends that consumers ask their doctors to prescribe a double dose -- 100 mg instead of 50 mg, for example -- and then cut the pills in half, resulting in a savings of anywhere from 30% to 50%. Pill splitters are available at drug stores for $5 or so. Pills with scores in them can usually be safely split, but not every pill is designed to be split. So before you split a pill, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Before you buy. Instead of heading directly to your local pharmacy, use the Web and your phone to find the lowest price for your particular prescription.

"Many people assume that drug prices are uniform and do not bother to comparison shop," Herrick says. "In fact, drug prices vary considerably. One survey found that prudent shopping among local pharmacies saved consumers almost 10% on brand-name drugs and a whopping 81% on generics, on average."

Research and consultation with a pharmacist might also turn up generic or even OTC alternatives to a brand-name drug, resulting in even more savings. Call locally-owned pharmacies, chain pharmacies and drug stores and warehouse stores for their prices and check out these Web sites:

Rxaminer.com. Register for free and find out about generic and OTC alternatives and comparison shop among retailers for the lowest price.

DestinationRx.com. This site offers information and education on drugs and alternatives and a price-comparison tool.

If you can't afford your prescriptions. For the millions of Americans with no prescription drug insurance coverage, there are a number of public and private assistance programs that can assist you in paying for your medications. Pharmaceutical companies run patient-assistance programs, and many states and other programs can also help. But you need to do the research to find out what is out there and if you qualify. These sites will get you started:

The Partnership for Prescription Assistance offers a site, www.pparx.org, developed by major pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups to help consumers determine if they are eligible for prescription assistance. If you are, you can enroll in programs through this site.

NeedyMeds.com casts a wider net and includes information on federal, state and local programs, discount drug cards, and other prescription and generic drug-assistance programs.

Other programs. Seniors benefit from the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Coverage plan passed by Congress (see "Deciphering Medicare Part D"). Many veterans are eligible for coverage through Tricare, a Department of Defense program; more information is available at www.va.gov/health_benefits.

By Amy Buttell Crane, Bankrate.com

bar2bar:
I found a good online pharmacy...with licensed pharmiacists...

They sell international generics and brands, so they are MUCH cheaper and still totally safe and effective.  They are online and by phone at 1800usaverx.com

J.R.E.:
Hi Jody,

 Thanks for that info. In addition to that ,the following site may be able to get people guided in a proper direction. This site will not give financial assistance, or medication, it will only direct you...


http://www.needymeds.com/


And within that link :

 http://www.needymeds.com/copay_diseases.taf?_function=summary&disease_id=128



Ray

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