Nov. 14, 2011 -- intro: Every few weeks I like to share a list of "Savings Secrets" -- ideas that aren't enough for an entire column on their own, but that might be just the little nuggets you need to save money. This time around I'll cover half a dozen tricks and tips for saving on prescription medications.
quicklist: category: title: Get two prescriptions for the same medication
Just in case a new medicine doesn't agree with you, you don't want to waste money on several months' worth. So instead, ask your doctor to write you two prescriptions: One that will last a couple of days or weeks and another, longer one that you can fill after that if the medication agrees with you and helps you.
quicklist: category: title: Beware of prescription drugs that end in "ER," "CD," "XR" and so on
These initials stand for "extended release" and "continuous delivery." They are often trumped-up variations of medications that were big money makers for the manufacturer but lost their patent. Manufacturers sometimes invent slightly new versions of their biggest blockbusters and patent them in an attempt to keep the dollars flowing. That's their right. And it's your right to ask if older, cheaper, generic drugs will work just as well for you.
quicklist: category: title: Save not just by what's written but how it's written
If you want to try pill splitting, where you buy higher dose pills then split them in half, ask your doctor to write "use as directed" instead of detailed dosing instructions. Some insurance companies don't allow you to get more than a month's supply of medicine at a time. So, if your strategy is to get 30 higher dose pills and split them so they last two months that could be a problem. Exactly how you take those pills can be a private matter between you and your doctor. Ask your doctor to explain the pill-splitting protocol during your office visit instead of on the prescription pad. And be sure the prescription you take is appropriate for splitting.
quicklist: category: title: Look into drug discount cards
Drug discount cards allow you to purchase approved drugs for 15 to 40 percent off. The Together RX Access card is the broadest, offering close to 300 brand name meds plus a pile of generics from several different manufacturers. To qualify, you must not be eligible for Medicare. For more information, visit: www.togetherrxaccess.com. Medical manufacturers, who do not participate in this discount card, may have others of their own.
quicklist: category: title: You may be able to get your meds for free
The only thing better than getting your prescriptions at a big discount is getting them for free. That, too, is possible, thanks to pharmaceutical companies that want to help people out -- and maybe burnish their reputations a little in the process.
The biggest pharmaceutical companies each give away more than $200 million worth of medicine every year. Phrma, or Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade organization for the pharmaceutical industry, has a great clearinghouse service called the Partnership for Prescription Assistance. This program will link you with the maker of your drug. Go to www.Pparx.org for access to more than 475 different assistance programs. The site is easy to use and will give you a great starting point.
quicklist: category: title: Pharmaceutical company websites can be sources of freebies and discounts
The more commercialized prescription drugs have gotten, (check out their ever-present ads on TV!) the more drug companies have borrowed pages from more common products' playbooks. So figure out who makes medicines you take routinely and check out their sites. You may see coupons for discounts or even free samples. You then work through your doctor and pharmacy to take advantage of these offers.