I like to think I am a savvy consumer, but put me on a doctor's examining table and whatever astute shopping skills I have go straight out the window. Asking plenty of questions about my health is par for the course but rarely (OK, never) have I asked the doctor how I could save money on medication. I bet that many of you haven't either.
To be fair, how many people can do their best thinking in a paper robe with various assets showing out the back? (The people who make the robes should really team up with Kleenex, makers of Viva paper towels. I wouldn't mind being wrapped in those.) But to save on prescription medications, you need to begin even before you set foot in the doctor's office. How? By getting a copy of the formulary, which is a list of the drugs your insurance company will cover. Bring the list to your appointment and share it with your doctor. In many cases, she can find a medicine that will both treat your illness and save you money.
These great tips were culled from experts Dr. Michael Cecil, author of Drugs for Less: The Complete Guide to Free and Discounted Drugs, and Michelle Katz, author of Healthcare for Less.
And here are even more money-saving tidbits:
Be upfront with your doctor. Doctors are intimately familiar with the rising costs of pharmaceuticals and the increasing pressure that places on their patients. Help your doctor to help you by asking if he is aware of a cheaper alternative or a way you can save money on the medication in question. For example, the pulmonary specialist who treats my children offers some asthma-related medical equipment at cost, saving us around $50.
Ask about generics directly. Your doctor is likely approached by gorgeous pharmaceutical reps on a regular basis, but it's not likely that these folks are pitching generics. Keep generics in your doctor's consciousness in case they're a suitable alternative for you.
Ask for samples. It costs your doctor nothing to give away free samples, but it can save you a lot.
Ask for the cheapest form of a medication. Sometimes a medication's cost will vary significantly depending on whether or not you're getting a capsule or tablet. You may also be able to save by getting a prescription for a larger dose than you need and then cutting the tablets in half.
Visit Costco. Wholesalers like Costco offer some of the most reasonable prices around on prescription medications. Notice I said visit, not join? That's because you can get your prescriptions filled at Costco without becoming a member (non-members may be charged a small fee). Just don't try to nab a case of those aforementioned Viva paper towels or you'll get chased over to the membership desk.
Put your local pharmacies to the test. Don't assume that prescription costs are the same from pharmacy to pharmacy; call and ask before you get your prescription filled. You'll be surprised at the wide variations in cost. Sometimes there are even significant rate differences between pharmacies in the same chain.
Purchase in bulk. Ask your doctor to prescribe a longer-term supply (for example, a 90-day supply) of any medication you take on a regular basis. Also check to see if your insurer has a mail-order pharmacy program that can also save you big bucks and a trip to your local pharmacy.
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor with a special interest in Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.