With today's rocky economy and rising healthcare costs, more and more of us are having a tough time paying for much-needed medicines. Here, expert advice on how to stretch your dollar -- without compromising your family's health. And we share tips on proper storage to make those meds last.
Take an inventory.
Bring a list of your meds and dosages to every appointment. And ask, "Why am I taking this? Do I still need it?" Your physician may suggest less expensive versions or eliminate medicines from your regimen if they're no longer necessary. He'll also check that the dosage is correct: "That's especially important for kids, since dosing is often based on weight, and young children grow rapidly," says Daniel Rauch, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University Medical Centers.
Start with generics.
Americans fill nearly 2 billion generic prescriptions each year. And for good reason: no-frills versions typically cost three times less than their brand-name counterparts do, yet they contain the same active ingredients and are just as strong. The differences are in the color, flavor, and texture. Talk to your doctor -- she may be able to help you cut costs by prescribing a less expensive generic antibiotic for, say, an ear infection. But if you or your child has food allergies, read prescription inserts carefully. Fillers, coatings, and other inactive ingredients are where allergens like corn and wheat often lurk. Find generic equivalents for your prescriptions, as well as warnings and info about side effects, at drx.com.
Pay $4 for generics.
Big-chain pharmacies, including Wal-Mart and Target, charge only $4 for 30-day treatments (and smaller supplies of certain antibiotics) of hundreds of commonly prescribed generic meds. And there are no extra fees or membership costs. Some grocery store chains even have programs -- at ShopRite, for example, you can buy a 90-day supply of certain medicines for just $10. Now that's a deal!
Ask for samples.
If there's no generic equivalent for a new prescription, ask your doctor if he can give you a free sample or a starter kit -- these are often available for newer drugs. That way, you can make sure the medicine works well before you pay for a large supply of pills you may not be able to use.
Know your formulary.
That's what health insurance companies call the list of medications covered under your plan, and copays vary based on the tier level of a drug. The typical copay for a tier-one, generic drug is about $10; a tier-two brand name is $20 to $35; and a tier-three, non-preferred brand name drug costs even more. Your formulary can change every few months, so check your insurance company's Web site for updates before you visit a doctor; your physician may be able to prescribe a drug from a different tier to save you some cash.