Consumer Reports: Prescription Best Buys

Consumer Reports teamed up with a university group that researches drug effectiveness on behalf of 13 states trying to keep Medicaid costs down.

The results for 35 different medical conditions are enlightening — and could save you big bucks.

Money-Saving Tips

Switch to generic. "You can save hundreds or even thousands a year by switching from one of the heavily advertised drugs to an equally effective generic drug in the same class," said Ronnie Sandroff, Consumer Reports health editor.

For example, if you have high cholesterol, ask about switching from top-selling Lipitor to a new generic called Lovastatin. Savings: $64 a month.

Newer isn't necessarily better. "Older drugs have a longer safety record and they can be just as good as newer drugs and cost a lot less," said Sandroff.

For example, if you suffer from diabetes, Metformin is a tried-and-true diabetes drug and compared to the leading diabetes medicine it will save you a very "sweet" $109 a month.

Look for over-the-counter alternatives. Many over-the-counter drugs do about the same thing as expensive, prescription ones.

If you're an allergy sufferer, generic Claritin is now available over the counter, which can be an option instead of prescription Zyrtec. Savings: $88 a month.

For heartburn, instead of Nexium, try less pricey Prilosec. You'll pocket a soothing $184 a month. That's a whopping $2,208 a year.

The pharmaceutical industry cautions not to oversimplify in the name of savings. "We are all different. Medicines are different and really the decision should best take place between the doctor and the patient in terms of what drug is best for a given patient," said Lori Reilly, vice president of policy & research for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Not all substitutions work. For example, Consumer Reports says various heart medicines have different strengths and weaknesses and it's important to get the right one for your exact condition.

Obviously, you'll have to talk to your doctor about any substitutions you want to make. Studies show many doctors aren't used to thinking about the cost of medications, so it's a good conversation for you to initiate.

Other ways to save: If your health plan includes a mail order pharmacy, often you can save big that way --especially if you arrange to make just one co-payment for a 3-month supply. And don't forget the $4 prescription meds available at Walmart and Target. The list is growing and often it's cheaper to put away your insurance card and pay the $4 in cash.

Click here to read more on prescription drugs from Consumer Reports.