Medical Author: Omudhome Ogbru, Pharm.D.
Medical Editor: Jay Marks, M.D.
- How do I eliminate unnecessary medications?
- What about the use of combination products?
- Are generic drugs as good as brand names?
- Can I cut my pills?
- Does comparison shopping work?
- What about pharmaceutical company programs?
- What about lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise?
Anyone who takes prescription medications is aware that medications are expensive. For those taking several medications, the monthly expense can amount to a few hundred dollars. Will discuss several ways to reduce the costs for medications.
How do I eliminate unnecessary medications?
The first step in reducing costs for medications is to eliminate unnecessary medications. To do this, you must know why you are taking each medication, what results to expect from taking it, and how long you should take it. If the medication does not do what it is supposed to within a reasonable amount of time, you should consult your healthcare provider about discontinuing the medication or trying alternative medications. There is no reason to take medications that provide no benefit. Individuals sometimes continue to refill prescriptions for medications that they should no longer be taking. The inappropriateness of continuing the medication may not be noticed until the prescription is no longer refillable, usually one year after it is written, and the pharmacist calls the health care practitioner for a new prescription. By then, a lot of money may have been wasted.
Duplication of medications is another potential problem. This usually happens when a patient receives a prescription for similar medications from different physicians. In addition to the unnecessary costs, there may be risks to taking two similar medications. To avoid these unnecessary medication-related expenses, it is a good idea to ask your health care practitioner and pharmacist to review your medications periodically.
Herbal medications (alternative medications), nutritional supplements, and vitamins are very popular. Most individuals do not need these products and in most cases they have not been proven to be effective for the conditions for which they are used. They can interact with other medications, cause side effects, and also be expensive. Before purchasing these products, you should ask your health care practitioner about their safety and effectiveness. If they do not provide additional benefit, there is no need to purchase them.
What about the use of combination products?
Several conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes, are treated with more than one medication at a time. Several pharmaceutical companies manufacture medications that combine two of the most frequently used medications. These combinations are convenient, since only one pill must be taken, which may enhance compliance with taking the medications. Moreover, some combinations may be less expensive than the individual drugs.
Are generic drugs as good as brand names?
In most instances, generic drugs work as well as the brand name drugs. Unless your health care practitioner advises against the use of the generic product, it will be less expensive to use the generic product. All too often, individuals purchase the more expensive brand name drug because they believe that the generic equivalent is inferior. In most states, as long as the prescriber does not indicate otherwise, pharmacists are required by law to substitute generic products for brand name products.
Can I cut my pills?
Many drugs come in higher and lower strength tablets. If the price of a tablet that is twice the strength of a lower strength tablet is less than twice the price of the lower strength tablet, it is less costly to buy the higher strength tablet. A pill cutter can then be used to cut the pills in half. For example, if the cost of the 40 mg tablet is $1.50 and the cost of the 20 mg tablet is $1.00, it is less expensive to buy and split the 40 mg tablet than it is to buy the 20 mg tablet ($0.75 verses $1.00). This strategy only works, however, for tablets that can be split.
Is comparison shopping worth it?
Drugs are similar to other goods that we purchase, and pharmacies compete with one another. Therefore, it makes sense to compare prices among pharmacies. In some instances, mail order or Internet pharmacies offer better prices than local pharmacies. Some medical plans offer reduced co-payments when drugs are purchased through their mail order or Internet pharmacy.
Do pharmaceutical companies have programs for those that cannot afford medication?
Major pharmaceutical companies may have programs that provide free medication to individuals who cannot afford them. There are income limitations and forms that have to be completed by a health care provider. If there is such a program and you cannot afford your medications, it is worth the effort to convince your health care provider to complete the necessary forms. These programs are a way for pharmaceutical companies to give back to the community, but they are under-utilized.
What about lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise?
The best way to reduce the costs of medications is to not develop the disease in the first place. Lifestyle plays a role in the development and the management of many diseases. For example, a recent study showed that moderate exercise and a proper diet could reduce the development of type 2 diabetes. In addition, proper diet and exercise improves the control of hypertension and diabetes and reduces the need for medications. Lifestyle modifications require commitment, but they can reduce the need for medication and the medication costs.