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How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

It certainly isn't a news flash that prescriptions cost an arm and a leg these days. Medicare doesn't pick up the tab on pills (unless you're in the hospital), insurance is expensive, and prices continue to skyrocket. A recent study by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Families USA confirmed that the prices of drugs most frequently used by older Americans rose 30 percent on average over the last six years. It's not uncommon for people to shell out $2,000 to $3,000 a year on prescription drugs.

It's no wonder so many older folks are up in arms over drug prices. My mother, in order to get pain medicine for my dying stepfather, had to use her charge card to buy 10 pills for a staggering $800. He died four days later. At least she had the credit to cover the costs. As Secretary of Aging, I met hundreds of older people who had to walk away from the pharmacy because they simply couldn't afford to pay. Others paid their utility bills late, shut off the air-conditioning, or went without food in order to buy the medications. Hopefully, you're not in that situation, but with no end in sight of rising drug prices, it's to your advantage to become a smart consumer. Check out my Prescription for Saving on Medications:

  • Ask if there is a generic equivalent of the drug being prescribed. Generics are less expensive than the brand name drug, sometimes as little as half the price.
  • If your parent is taking a new drug for the first time, ask for a trial size rather than a 30-day supply. That way if you have an adverse reaction to the drug, you won't be throwing away your money and the pills for a full 30-day supply. If the drug is working well, you'll need to ask your doctor for a refill to finish the prescription.
  • Ask the doctor for drug samples. In most cases, the doctor will be able to get you started on a drug with free samples provided by the drug company.
  • If your parent is taking a maintenance drug—a drug Mom or Dad has to take for a long time to maintain health—look into buying in quantity. A 90-day supply will be cheaper than a month's supply.
  • Look into ordering maintenance drugs by mail or online. They are usually cheaper than they would be at a drug store because there is less overhead. If you're ordering online, make sure it's a credible group that has been approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
  • Shop around. Call pharmacies to find out their prices for various medications. You'd be surprised at the difference. Many will deliver for free, so you won't have to travel all over town to get the best buy. Also ask them if they offer senior citizen discounts.
  • If your parent must take medications over the long term (for diabetes, blood pressure, Parkinson's, or cardiovascular problems, for example), look into an insurance plan. If the monthly premiums and deductibles are less than what they put out every month—go for it.
  • Some states have prescription assistance programs for low-income elderly. Call the local area agency on aging to find out how to qualify for any programs in your state.
  • Some drug companies offer free or reduced-price medications in certain cases. Visit www.phrma.org/patients to see if the manufacturer of your parent's drug participates. Only your parent's physician can apply to the drug company on your parent's behalf. It doesn't hurt for you to do the homework and share the information with your parent's physician so he or she can apply on your parent's behalf.
  • If your parent receives prescriptions in a nursing home from the facility's pharmacist be sure to scan the monthly bill. Many homes inflate the prices. Instead, you can choose to buy them on your own and have your parent's medications delivered to the nursing home.

More on: Aging Parents


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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