That's important to know, given that more people are paying for large parts of their medical insurance nowadays. But even people with prescription-drug coverage can lower their spending on co-payments for medications.
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- Drugs and Medicines
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One recent study showed that instead of paying about $140 for 100 doses of cardiovascular drug Tenormin, you could instead pay $5.65. Instead of paying near $500 for 100 doses of heartburn drug Nexium, you could pay about $62. Those examples, achieved through a variety of techniques outlined below, were included in a November study, "Shopping For Drugs: 2007," by health economist Devon Herrick of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank in Washington.
The report is light on policy and politics, and heavy on examining practical ways consumers can cut their drug spending.
Americans spent $230 billion on prescription drugs in 2005, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
Below are several ways to spend less money on yours. Of course, your doctor should approve using these strategies.
Ask your doctor if a less expensive medication would work. A generic, a copy of a name-brand drug, can cost 20 percent to 80 percent less. On average, the cost of a brand-name prescription in 2005 was about $100, while generics cost about $30, according to the association. Generics are only available for drugs whose patent has expired.
For example, consider that last year the patent expired on the popular cholesterol-lowering medication Zocor. Patients taking Zocor and the more popular Lipitor now have generic options and could save as much as 70 percent.
Another possible substitute for high-priced drugs is an over-the-counter medication approved by your doctor. For those with insurance, you might find an over-the-counter substitute costs less than your prescription co-pay. And co-pays for generics often are less than a co-pay for a brand-name drug.
For more information on making cost-effective drug choices, go online to www.crbestbuydrugs.org, for a Consumers Union report.
-- Compare prices.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. rocked the retail pharmaceutical world in September when it announced it would sell a month's worth of certain generic prescription drugs for $4. Its program includes 331 drugs, including 14 of the top 20 most-prescribed medications. Other retailers have matched Wal-Mart's program, or at least lowered their prices. Costs can vary widely among pharmacies, so it pays to compare among both online and brick-and-mortar retailers, especially if you take the medication regularly. Price comparisons and information are available at such Web sites as DestinationRx.com, PharmacyChecker.com and PillBot.com.
"It's getting more competitive and that's obviously a very good sign," Herrick said. "People are beginning to see they have a choice."
-- Be wary of samples.
Free drug samples from your doctor are a great bargain--that is, until the freebies run out. That's when you fill the prescription and find those free pills can become extremely expensive. Some clinics and hospitals have banned the use of samples, claiming it's cheaper for patients in the long run to use generics.
-- Buy in bulk.
Most health plans through employers offer a mail-order option, where you can buy drugs in bigger quantities. A three-month supply by mail order can cost nearly the same as a one- or two-month supply at a retail drugstore, the study said.