How to Save Money on Cholesterol Drugs

You don’t need the newscasters to tell you that prescription drug prices are on the rise or that insurers are covering less of the cost. For some people, the out-of-pocket outlay for prescription drugs extracts little more than a quiet moan at the cash register. For others, it means skipping medicine or meals in order to pay.

Here are some tips for cutting costs:

Get Your Doctor’s Help

Unless a doctor knows you’re trying to cut corners, he or she won’t take price into consideration when filling out the prescription pad. But most doctors are willing and able to help once you mention your concern. Here are a few things to ask about:

  • Generic drugs. Buying generic drugs instead of the more expensive brand-name versions is one of the most effective ways to cut your monthly drug bill. For example, a month’s supply of the 20 mg dose of the brand-name statin Mevacor costs about $70, while the same amount of generic lovastatin costs about $35.

There’s no need to worry that a cheaper price means less quality. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the production of generics just as carefully as brand-name drugs. The only difference may be in the inactive ingredients—things like fillers, coatings, and flavorings.

Some doctors worry that the inactive ingredients change how much of the active ingredients the body absorbs. The FDA doesn’t share this concern, though. Some classes of drugs are so new that generic forms aren’t yet available. If your doctor prescribes one of these, ask if there’s a slightly older type of drug that does much the same thing.

  • Cheaper brand-name drugs. Sometimes you can trade off convenience for savings. For instance, if your doctor suggests a brand-name combination drug, ask if you can save money by taking the component drugs one by one. In other cases, you can save by taking an older drug two or three times a day instead of using a newer (and more expensive) once-a-day formulation.
  • Starting small. When you start a new drug, ask your doctor to give you a prescription for just a week or two. This way you can see if the dosage is right and if the drug agrees with you. If everything goes well, then you can fill a longer-term prescription. If it doesn’t, you aren’t stuck with a stockpile of pills you paid for but can’t use.
  • Starting low. Ask about starting a drug at the lowest possible dose, especially for a drug that’s relatively new.
  • Splitting the difference. You expect to pay about twice as much for a two-pound box of pasta as you do for a onepound box. But the same pricing concept doesn’t always apply to drugs. Often, you can save money by asking your doctor to prescribe pills in twice the dosage you need.

Then you can cut them in half to double the number of doses. This approach is not for everyone, and it can’t be done for all drugs. Capsules and timed-release formulas, in particular, should never be split.

Shop Around for the Best Price

The same kind of comparison shopping you might do for a car or a coffeemaker can pay off for drugs.

  • Buy by mail. If your prescription drugs are covered by insurance, see if the insurer has a mail-order pharmacy. Some offer lower co-payments.
  • Call around. You’ll find that drug prices vary from store to store. Try independent pharmacies, national chains, and megastores such as Wal-Mart and Costco.
  • Go online. You can find bargains or quickly compare drug prices on the Internet. (If you don’t have a computer, the ones at your public library are free to use, and many librarians will help you find information.) Many brick-andmortar pharmacies have websites that offer discounts on prescription drugs.

So do “virtual” pharmacies, which do all their business online. For the most part, shopping for prescription drugs online is safe. One way to tell if the site is legitimate is the VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) seal of approval from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. You can also check with the board to see if an online pharmacy is licensed and in good standing.

Join a Group

Some organizations offer savings on prescription drugs as a perk. If you’re a member of AARP, for example, you can join its MembeRx Choice plan for $20 a year. It offers savings on topselling drugs.

If you served in the military, you may be eligible for the TRICARE Pharmacy or Senior Pharmacy programs. Buying groups such as the Peoples Prescription Plan and the United States Pharmaceutical Group also offer savings and are open to everyone.

Look for Low-Income Options

Some money-saving options are aimed at low- to middle-income seniors without any drug insurance. The Together Rx Card, for example, provides savings on more than 150 widely prescribed medicines.

Some states provide assistance with prescription drugs to low-income seniors or people with disabilities who do not qualify for Medicaid. To quickly find out if your state has such a benefit or if you qualify for other programs, try the National Council on the Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp Web site.

Reduce Your Need for Drugs

If you’re serious about cutting your drug bill, get serious about adopting a healthier lifestyle, which may cut the need for medication. Don’t stop taking your pills first and then try to make lifestyle changes. Make the changes first. When you start getting results, then talk with your doctor about medication changes.