Frugal Friday – Medicine

Welcome to yet another very Frugal Friday!  This week, we’re going to look at what tends to be a rather large expense for many people, medications.  In a world where nearly every problem seems to have a (prescription) drug-based cure (to say nothing of many issues that probably don’t rise to level of ‘problems’…), being able to trim even a relatively small portion of your medication expenses can end up saving you a great deal of money throughout your lifetime (particularly as you get older and those medication expenses start to take up a larger and larger portion of your budget).

A note before we begin, though; more important than trying to save money, make sure that you stay safe.  We’re talking about chemicals you ingest that are intended to alter your body’s biochemistry, after all; this is one area where you don’t want to let caution take a back seat to cost-cutting efforts.  There are ways to keep your medicine costs low while not compromising your health as we shall see below, so there’s no need to put your (or your family’s) health on the line to save, okay? Alright then, let’s get into the fun of cutting down your medicine expenses:

1. Keep Yourself Healthy: If you want to purchase less medicine (the easiest way to save money on medicine), then do what you can to keep yourself from needing that medicine.  Simple, no?  Alright, not so simple (especially with genetic diseases), but still, eating a decent diet, exercising regularly, and taking care of yourself is the best method to preemptively keep your medicine costs and other medical bills to a minimum.  (As a side note: No, this is not an excuse to put off going to the doctor for a ‘minor’ problem that’s been afflicting you for the past week or ignoring your annual check-up for nearly a decade; part of staying healthy is keeping up with your doctor and catching any problems before they get too bad and cost more to treat.  Sorry, my fellow guys.)

2. Buy Generic:  One of the top (if not the top) suggestions for cutting down your pharmacy bills, buying generic drugs (both prescription and over the counter, OTC) can greatly reduce the amount you end up spending, while still getting the EXACT SAME drugs.  Not to shout at you, but unlike say, generic cola vs. Coke, generic drugs are regulated by the FDA to be absolutely CHEMICALLY IDENTICAL (oops, there I go again) to the national brands.  Granted, not all drugs have generics available; drugs remain on patent for several years before other companies can legally produce the same drug.  Still, asking your doctor if there is an effective generic drug or checking with your pharmacist to determine if the prescribed drug has a generic form can be a great way to save money while getting the medication you need.  (You can also check out the FDA’s ‘Orange Book’ of drug equivalence so you’ll know whether your prescription can be filled by generics.)

3. Shop Around For the Best Price: It’s a pretty good way to save on almost anything else, from food to stereos, so why not do some comparison shopping when stocking your medicine cabinet?  For OTC drugs, check the prices on the shelves and see what the cost will be for the medicines you want to buy before you shell out the money.  Prescription drugs will require a bit more work; you’ll need to talk with the pharmacists to find out the costs.  But a little effort can have a great payoff; when Wal-Mart and other companies offer generic prescriptions for $4 per month (or even less), the potential savings by combining these last two tips is incredible.

4. Buy in Bulk: Obviously, this method is not something you can usually apply to prescription drugs.  (Although, you can ask your doctor to write prescriptions you’ll need for a while (up to and including the rest of your life) to cover longer stretches of time, if you find a pharmacy that gives bulk discounts or charges less per dose for larger numbers of doses.)  But for OTC drugs you’ll be using for a long time or need a lot of, you can buy larger containers and generally save a bit.  Just make sure that you don’t overdo it: like milk, OTC drugs come with expiration dates; unlike milk, there is likely to be more problems than curdling if you try to use a drug that’s a week past its expiration date.

5. Buy Larger Dose Pills and Split Them: This is, I’ll admit, a new one on me; even though I used to work in a pharmacy, I don’t recall any mention of patients getting pills with instructions to split them.  (Although, I did only work there a short time, and spent much of my time working the cash register rather than pouring over the prescriptions that came in.)  Still, it seems to be a fairly common method of saving, at least with tablets, presuming your doctor is willing to go along and write a prescription for double dose pills with instructions to split them.   Be aware, though, that (a) you shouldn’t try to go around your doctor’s back and split pills you were instructed to take whole (or otherwise decrease your dosage); (b) you should look into a pill splitter to ensure even splits every time; and (c) if your doctor doesn’t go along with this, you shouldn’t try to talk your pharmacist into it, as things will just end badly if you do.

6. Take Advantage of Patient Assistance Programs (PAP): So, what is a PAP?  Basically, it is a program that helps to provide medications to those who are unable afford them otherwise (the ones without insurance, the under-insured, those who don’t qualify for government programs, etc.).  There are resources to look for online to help you if you fall into one of those categories or otherwise need some help.  Similarly, you could try to ask your doctor if she has any samples of the drugs you need that she could offer you; as doctors do get samples from pharmaceutical companies, it’s possible that she could help you out (and clean off her shelf at the same time).

There you have it, a half dozen ways to keep your medicine costs under control.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to keep the sometimes outrageous cost of medicine under control.  Stay healthy, happy, and of course, frugal!

6 Responses to Frugal Friday – Medicine

  1. I actually cut my medication bill in half just by switching pharmacies. I started out at Rite Aid and was paying $9 a month for my generic brand medication. I moved and switched to the Ralph’s pharmacy two blocks from my new place and found out my medication would only cost $4 per month now. Neat, huh?

  2. @krantcents: Very true; a good Flexible Spending Account can be a nice way to save. Alas, if I included EVERY possible way to cut down your costs in a particular area, these Frugal Friday posts would end up being thousands of words long. (As it stands, I can’t seem to keep them from going over one thousand.)

    @Joe: Sounds like a good example of comparison shopping at work. Good to see you got more than a 50% reduction just by choosing the right pharmacy.

  3. Great overview. And I don’t have a problem, as a Doc with any of your suggestions.

    As Joe said, most private local pharmacies now match the 4 buck generics so it is good to ask if they have suggestions.

    Pills that come with a “crease” are fine to split. Those that don’t usually aren’t made to split, but doesn’t hurt to ask.

    Also OTC drugs can’t be bought with FSA money any more…Alas the feds removed them from the tax free plans.
    Dr Dean´s last blog post ..A New Credit Temptation!

  4. @Dr. Dean: Good to know I didn’t cross any lines with the physician community; I try not to give any illegal or otherwise questionable advice. Asking around about drug prices at local pharmacies is always a good plan, as it seeing it if it’s possible to split higher dose drugs. And keeping up on all the rules and regulations regarding how you can use the money in FSA accounts (and all accounts with special rules, for that matter can be tricky, but is always important. Thanks for the good advice.

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