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6 Ways to Score Cheap(er) Drugs

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The Motley Fool's Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp is in session! Every weekday this month, we’ll walk you through a fresh money-saving/money-making tip as we work toward finding $2,000 in savings you didn’t know you had.

You should get that looked at before it turns into something major. No, I’m not dispensing medical advice -- I’m talking about that menacing prescription-drug tab.

In our quest to find $2,000 in savings, we’re going to scrutinize the contents of your medicine cabinet. It’s a worthwhile exercise, given how much the average person spends on prescriptions -- about $330 annually out-of-pocket for someone under the age of 65, according to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality survey.

By the way, those outlays don't get any lower the older you get. Those 65 and older shell out around $1,000 out-of-pocket for their drugs, according to a similar survey. And since those surveys were both done a couple years ago, it's likely the figures are even higher now.

6 ways to save $232.27 on prescriptions
Saving money on medication requires some up-front work. But once you institute these changes, it'll be easy to save cash month after month, particularly on maintenance medications.

In order from least to most time-invasive, here are six ways to save on your pharmacological needs.

Ditch the convenience dispensers and save $53 a month: If your drug dealer of choice is a drugstore chain like Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD  ) , Walgreen (NYSE: WAG  ) , or CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS  ) , it may be time to switch suppliers. A 2006 Consumer Reports survey found that the best prices for prescriptions -- from cheapest to costliest -- are typically: online pharmacies; mass merchants like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , Target (NYSE: TGT  ) , and Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) ; supermarkets like Kroger (NYSE: KR  ) ; independent drugstores/pharmacies; and, finally, the aforementioned drug chains. (Heed the FDA's advice on buying drugs online by first reading its report.)

Comparison-shop online: Although online pharmacies are generally the lowest-cost providers, it depends on what exactly you take. Use comparison shopping sites PillBot.com, PharmacyChecker.com, and DestinationRX.com to see where to score the cheapest (medically necessary) fix. We priced out a one-month supply of four common drugs and pocketed $79 in savings.

Go generic and save 30% to 80%: Talk to your doctor about switching to the generic form of the medication, if available. This alone can result in up to 30% to 80% in savings. According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (as reported by the FDA), in 2004, the average price of a brand-name prescription drug was $96.01, while the generic was $67.27 less at $28.74.

Buy mail-order maintenance meds: Most major health plans have partnerships with mail-order pharmacies, which can cut your pharmacy co-pays by 15% to 35%. Since it can take days to fill and mail your order, this option is most convenient for drugs you take every day (e.g. “maintenance medications”). (Here’s more on getting the most out of your employee benefits.)

Consult your doctor for ways to save: There are many ways your physician can help you cut costs. (As with all things medical, it is best not to play doctor and try them on your own. Discuss these options with your doctor.)

  • If you're starting a new drug, ask your doctor for free samples. They often have promotional samples lying around and can give you a few days' (or weeks') worth of drugs for free.
  • If you take a medication that comes in solid pill form, see if your doc will prescribe twice the dosage and direct you to take only half of each pill at a time. This strategy can save you quite a bit, especially if the medication isn't available in generic form. (You can find pill cutters at most drugstores -- a better alternative to the bite-it-in-half approach.)

Stick with "the plan" and save $33 a month: Most insurance plans have several pricing tiers which affect your co-pay. Keep costs down by sticking with your plan's "preferred drug list" (or "formulary" or approved list of drugs). The average copayment for a non-preferred drug in 2007 was $43. Compare that to $25 for a name-brand drug on a preferred drug list (where there's no generic substitute) and $11 for the generic version.

Bring the printed list of preferred drugs to your doctor appointments. If a generic or nonpreferred drug isn't as effective, discuss workarounds with your doc. For instance, one co-worker saved $100 a month by getting monthly allergy shots (covered under the plan) in lieu of her nonpreferred medication.

More ways to save ...

  • Pay less for all your coverage: Here's our 60-second rundown of all sorts of ways to save on health-care costs.
  • Are you eligible for even more discounts? AARP offers a drug discount card to members. Depending on your income and other factors, you may be entitled to even greater discounts through a patient assistance program. For more information, go to www.ashp.org/pap and rxassist.org.
  • Don’t forget your furry four-legged friends: Pet-related expenses like monthly pills and vet visits can add up. Find out ways to save money on your pets.

Tune in throughout the month for the latest installment of our Fiscal Fitness Boot Camp, as we stay on course to produce at least $2,000 of savings for you.

Fiscal Fitness instructor Dayana Yochim takes her vitamins and tries to eat something green (naturally green) every day. Costco and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Costco, which is also a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool.com disclosure policy is nutritious, filling, and compliant with the law.


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 12, 2010, at 7:34 PM, rsagall wrote:

    All the information on pharmaceutical patient assistance programs plus hundreds of other programs is available for free at www.needymeds.org. Each workday over 12,000 people visit our site. We have all the applications on the website.

    Our information is ease to access, updated regularly, and free. We gather no information about our users.

    You don't have to pay to apply to these programs. Most are easy to apply to and respond quickly.

    We also offer a free drug discount card. No registration is required and anyone is eligible to use it. The average savings is 30-40% with occasional savings of up to 75% or even more.

    Rich Sagall, MD

    President

    NeedyMeds, Inc.

    P.O. Box 219

    Gloucester, MA 01931

  • Report this Comment On January 12, 2010, at 8:56 PM, Fool wrote:

    A site consumers can use to fight these costs is www.rx-savings-solutions.com. They are pharmacists to provide personal service to decrease costs for consumers.

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2010, at 1:56 PM, MyHealthNMoney wrote:

    To find lower prices on over 12,000 brand and generic drugs check out our new website, MyHealthandMoney.com

    http://www.myhealthandmoney.com/drug-savings/letter/A

    You can also find comparison pricing tools to help you save on diagnostic tests and hospital procedures and discounts on healthcare products and services.

    Our goals is to help patients learn to be smarter healthcare consumers, stretch their HSA dollars, and save on their recurring healthcare expenses.

    We welcome your feedback about the site.

    Thanks,

    Katrina

  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2010, at 8:38 AM, jsmontag wrote:

    Caveat Emptor with mail order meds...

    1. Many plans are discontinuing the copay break you get when ordering by mail

    2. If something goes wrong with your order, if you order by mistake, if your medicine gets changed the day after you order a refill...good luck getting a refund. The mail order process is so automated, once the refill is in the pipeline, it is impossible to change or stop delivery.

    3. Price compare with local (non-mega chain) pharmacies. The $4/month or $10/90 days may be a far better deal

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