Cutting Your Drug Costs
by Richard O. Johnson
Consumer Advocate and Founder of NotBarter.com The Los Angeles Skills Pool
Revised March 20, 2011
Health-related costs—including drug costs—rise faster than any other personal expense. The purpose of this article is to help you fight that trend.
In addition to important general tips, this survey will cover local bargains, private and nonprofit programs, government programs, Canadian pharmacies, and how best to shop online or by mail, linking you to websites with which to pursue the various options. It will also warn you against phony savings.
A. General Tips
These tips apply whether you're buying medications at your corner drugstore or online (or by mail), even from another country. However, buying in person is usually the most expensive way to go, sometimes by a huge margin.
B. Bargains at Pharmacy Chains
You can obtain superb values on generic prescription drugs at several chains, currently including Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Target, and Walgreen's. At this writing, for example, a 30-day supply at Wal-Mart or Target will set you back just $4.00.
For brand-name prescriptions, Kmart's GoldK program offers discounts up to 10 percent. GoldK offers up to 20% off on generics.
C. Private and Nonprofit Programs
You don't have to be destitute or welfare-eligible to qualify for one or more of these programs, some of whose income caps may surprise you.
1. Partnership for Prescription Assistance.
This mega-program takes in nearly 300 individual programs, which give discounts as high as 100%.
The bad news is that (depending on the program) you may have to re-apply as often as every 90 days, and pick up the medication at your doctor's.
Each affiliated program has its own requirements and benefits. Rather than wade through the details for each, you can check out the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, where a short questionnaire will lead you to programs matching your situation. Or call (888) 477-2669.
2. Together Rx Access
This program, at www.togetherrxaccess.com/Tx/jsp/legal.jsp, can save you 25% to 40% off the cost of 300 or so brand-name prescription drugs and other prescription products. It's for applicants not eligible for Medicare, with a yearly income no higher than $45,000 for a single, and $105,000 for a family of five (as examples). Some generics are covered too.
3. Rx Outreach
Discounted prices for over 150 generic drugs at $20 for a 6-month supply, hundreds more at somewhat higher prices. Income limits depend on family size. Go to www.rxoutreach.com.
4. Co-Pay Relief Program, Patient Advocate Foundation
Direct financial support for insured patients, including Medicare Part D beneficiaries, on the basis of financial need. Counselors personally guide applicants through the enrollment process. www.copays.org
5. National Organization for Rare Disorders
Programs to assist the uninsured or under-insured to secure life-saving or life-sustaining medications. www.rarediseases.org/programs/medication
6. Pfizer Helpful Answers
Points you to 7 Pfizer assistance programs, plus other industry programs and government programs. www.pfizerhelpfulanswers.com
7. Pharmaceutical Assistance Program
Comprehensive alphabetical list of drugs whose manufacturers provide assistance, with detailed information about each program. www.medicare.gov/pap/index.asp
8. Benefits Checkup
Questionnaires that will direct you to available help in many areas, including prescription drugs and various other needs. www.benefitscheckup.org/moreprograms.cfm?partner_id=0
D. Government Programs
Get the dope at www.va.gov/healtheligibility
To choose a Medicare drug plan, use Prescription Drug Plan Finder.
3. Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Families eligible for CHIP may earn as much as three times the federal poverty level ($66,150 for a family of four in 2009), depending on the state. The program covers medical, dental, and hospital care as well as prescriptions. The website of California's CHIP, known as the Healthy Families Program, is at www.healthyfamilies.ca.gov.
4. National Financial Resources Guidebook for Patients
State-by-state directory of information for patients seeking financial relief for medical and other needs. www.patientadvocate.org/report.php
E. Canadian Pharmacies
To discourage the purchase of cheaper drugs from across the border, some have advanced various arguments, which are largely bogus. For example, it's not true that Canadian drugs are unsafe. An October 2003 study by the Illinois Office of Special Advocate for Prescription Drugs found that:
These findings are supported by a June 2004 report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which found zero irregularities in Canadian drugs it ordered.
(You need to be aware, though, that a generic drug is probably cheaper in the U.S. )
The best single criterion for safe purchase of Canadian medications is accreditation by CIPA, the Canadian International Pharmacy Association. You'll also want to consider the criteria in the following section.
F. Shopping Online or by Mail
Following these guidelines could save you a lot of grief whether you're ordering from a pharmacy in or out of the U.S.
G. A Good Resource
While I'm a great fan of Consumer Reports, because of their pricing policies I can't endorse the paid online version. However, CR does publish some free webpages, and one such resource you'll want to check out is Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs. This site suggests drugs "that can effectively meet your medical needs and give you better value for your health care dollar."
H. Phony Savings
Except for the first, these cautions were presented in the pages of Consumer Reports on Health (CROH), an offshoot of Consumer Reports: