Fiscal Fitness '09: 6 Ways to Score Cheap(er) Drugs

Today's tip is part of our Fiscal Fitness '09 series. Every weekday this month, you'll get help getting fiscally fit as we work toward our goal of saving $2,000 to invest in 3 stocks!

You should get that looked at by a doctor before it turns into something major. No, The Motley Fool isn't dispensing medical advice; we're just pointing out yet another way to save -- by slashing your prescription drug costs.

According to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality survey released last January, the average expenditure for prescriptions for someone under the age of 65 who needed a prescription was $933 in 2005 (the latest statistics available). About $330 of that was paid out-of-pocket.

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.

6 Rx's 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's 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.)

Pharmacy Type

30-Day Supply of 5 Common Generic Drugs

Large online pharmacies (e.g., Costco.com, Drugstore.com, Walgreens.com)

$104

Mass merchants (e.g., Wal-Mart, Target, Shopko)

$105

Independent pharmacies

$121

Supermarkets

$138

Drugstore chains (e.g., CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens)

$157

Source: 2006 Consumer Reports survey.

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), the average price of a brand-name prescription drug was $96.01 in 2004, 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 (such as Medco) 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.

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 if you're not a fan of 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 Fool 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. Go to aarppharmacy.com for more. 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.

Read the latest from Fiscal Fitness '09: 1 Month, 2 Grand, 3 Stocks to get our other money-saving tips. You can also keep up with our tips through our daily Foolwatch email. Share your frugal insights and experiences through our Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, or leave a comment below.

Fiscal Fitness boot camp instructor Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. Wal-Mart and Costco are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Costco is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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