The high prices of prescription medications can force people into making choices they don't want to. Fortunately, there are ways to pay less at the pharmacy without compromising your health -- no matter what insurance you have.
Amy Goodman, senior editor of All You magazine shared on "The Early Show" Tuesday ways you can take control of your prescriptions and your health.
Five Ways to Cut Your Prescription Costs In A Big Way:
DISCUSS WITH YOUR PROVIDER
Don't be embarrassed to say you're having trouble affording your medications. Physicians want you to comply with their treatment plan, and often they can help you find cheaper alternatives. Ask for samples, and see if the doctor knows of local programs that provide financial assistance. Before doing anything discuss with your Doctor, or provider.
SAFETY TIP: If you get a free sample, check its side effects and expiration date.
1. Get a free discount card
A few health-care organizations (not to be confused with your insurance plan) have negotiated discounts that are available to anyone. Download the card from the Internet, take it to a participating pharmacy, and get a price break on both brand-name and generic drugs. For example, YourRxCard (866-561-1926; yourrxcard.com) cut the price of a vial of insulin by $9. Another card to try is FamilyWize (800-222-2818; familywize.org). Discounts vary, so check to see what you'll save on your specific medication.
2. Split pills
As long as your pills aren't capsules and your medication isn't time-released, ask your doctor if it's possible to double your dose and then split each pill in half. The cost per dose is likely much lower that way. When All You priced Lexapro, an antidepressant, the 5mg pills were about $3 each, and the 10mg pills were only 16 cents more. Be sure to use a pill splitter-a device available for a few dollars at drug stores-to hold the pills in place and help you cut each one accurately.
3. Buy Online, safely
Often you can reduce costs by ordering prescriptions online to be mailed to you. Your health insurance company might have a preferred mail-order pharmacy; call the number on your card to find out. Or go to vipps.info for a list of 17 pharmacies that have been approved for safety and privacy by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mail-order pharmacies should be used only for medications you take regularly, not for drugs you need to treat a sudden illness.
SAFETY TIP: If you buy from a Web site, make sure it displays the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites seal. Unverified sites might sell you counterfeit drugs that could endanger your health.
4. Go generic
About 75 percent of brand-name drugs sold in the United States have a generic equivalent that costs significantly less. For example, a brand-name allergy drug can be $1 per pill, and the generic version is just 8 cents. Walmart, Target, Kroger and other discount and grocery chains offer 30-and 90-day supplies of generic drugs for $10 or less. If your doctor hasn't prescribed a generic, ask why. It's possible that the drug is new and there isn't a generic equivalent yet. If so, ask the doctor if there's an older, less expensive medicine that works just as well.
Did You Know?: The average brand-name prescription drug costs more than three times as much as the average generic.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation
5. Look for coupons
Check OptimizeRx.com, a site on which drug companies post links to coupons and free offers. Also check the Web site of the company that makes your medication (to find the manufacturer, look on your prescription label next to the drug name and the dosage). If you're willing to switch pharmacies, some stores offer cash rewards to new customers.
SAFETY TIP: If you do change pharmacies, be sure to give the new pharmacist a complete list of all the prescription medications, vitamins and over-the-counter drugs you're taking, so he or she can check for interactions and other potential problems.
6. Get financial assistance
Many states, nonprofit groups and pharmaceutical companies can help you pay for your medications, even if you already have health insurance. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance acts as a clearinghouse for such programs. Visit PPARx.org or call 888-477-2669 to determine your eligibility. For information on children's programs, go to Kids.PPARx.org.
Stay organized Keep track of your meds with the free chart at SafeMedication.com (click on "My Medicine List").
7. Shop around
Drug prices can vary drastically at different pharmacies. Note the name, dose and quantity of the medicine your doctor prescribed, then compare prices at local pharmacies by calling around or searching DestinationRx.com. Check prices at your local warehouse clubs too-they often feature substantial discounts. Go to Costco.com and click on "Pharmacy" to see many prices posted. Costco offers an even greater price cut to people without prescription drug insurance.
Did you know?: One in five people surveyed in 2009 didn't fill a prescription in order to save money; 15 percent skipped doses or cut pills in half.
8. Order a 90-day supply
For medications you take regularly, ask your doctor to prescribe 90 days' worth. The price per dose is generally cheaper for larger quantities. And if you have insurance, you pay one co-pay instead of three.
9. Do a meds checkup
At least once a year, make a list of all the medications you take, including prescriptions, over-the-counter products, herbal remedies and vitamins. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review the list. If you have more than one doctor, you could be taking two drugs that address the same symptom. Or, you might be on two drugs that shouldn't be taken together. Ask your doctor if you can eliminate one or more.
Some Questions to Ask Your Doctor
What happens if I don't take this medication?
In most cases, taking your medicine is critical. But sometimes it simply makes you more comfortable-for example, it alleviates a slight itch. If your condition isn't bothersome, ask your doctor if you can skip the medication.
Is there an over-the counter remedy?
For common symptoms such as a cough, muscle ache, sinus blockage or skin rash, ask your doctor if a non-prescription medicine may be just as effective.
Is there a generic equivalent?
If your doctor has prescribed a brand-name drug, find out why. Ask if you can try a generic first. If the generic's side effects bother you or the drug doesn't work well, you can switch to the brand name later.
Is there a less expensive choice?
Even among brand-name drugs, prices will vary, and doctors don't always think about the cost of prescriptions they write. When dropping off your prescription, ask how much it will be. If the price is exorbitant, call your doctor to request a cheaper alternative.
Are there lifestyle changes I can try that will make this medication unnecessary?
For some chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high cholesterol, you might be able to stay off drugs by changing your diet and lifestyle. Your doctor may be willing to give you a strategy and monitor your progress before moving to the meds. Be a proactive patient.
Don't blindly accept whatever prescription your doctor hands you. Instead, take a moment to manage your health and your budget by asking these important questions.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation
Sources: David Knowlton, board member, HealthWell Foundation; Jacqueline Kosecoff, CEO, Prescription Solutions; Cindy Reilly, director of practice development, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; Eric Wilcox, DO, osteopathic physician at Pittsford Family Medicine in Pittsford, N.Y.