Reducing Medication Costs
How can you lower your medicine costs?
Trying to make some changes in your lifestyle might help reduce your need for medicines. Many chronic illnesses, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and low back pain, require fewer medicines if you can increase your activity level, lose weight, and improve your diet. Also, counselling, support groups, and other therapies may help with illnesses such as depression.
How can you save money on prescriptions?
Generic medicines are less expensive copies of brand-name medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can take a generic equivalent for the brand-name medicine that you take now. Generic equivalents are made according to the same strict Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) standards as brand-name drugs. So generics have the same quality, strength, purity, and stability as their more expensive brand names.
Unfortunately, generic equivalents are not available for every brand-name medicine. If there is not an equivalent, ask your doctor if there is a similar medicine in the same class that may be less expensive or that has a generic equivalent.
Shop around for the best deal on medicines. Finding a good deal is important, but be sure that your pharmacist (or pharmacists) knows your medical history, including all the medicines you take—both prescription and over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs as well as natural health products—even if you didn't get them at that particular pharmacy. That way he or she can provide valuable advice about any potential for drug interactions, side effects, or other problems.
Pill splitting is another strategy that can help you save money without losing drug effectiveness or safety. Some tablets are available at double the dose and at the same or almost the same cost as lower doses. By splitting the larger dose, you can essentially get two doses for the price of one. But many medicines should not be split, including timed-release pills and capsules.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your prescription medicines are sold at higher dosages and if it's possible to split them. Talk to your pharmacist about how to split pills with an inexpensive, easy-to-use pill splitter.
Buying prescriptions in bulk can also save you money. Ask your doctor to write a prescription for several months' supply of medicines that you take consistently. Keep in mind that your insurance company may limit the amount of medicine you can get at one time. Sometimes the price for a 3-month supply of medicine is less costly than if you were to pay an insurance copay each month for three months. Mail-order services can often save you money on large orders. But be sure to use only trusted, reliable pharmacy websites.
If you are trying a medicine for the first time, don't get more than a 30-day supply. That way, if you have concerns about side effects, you can talk to your doctor about trying another medicine. And you may save money by not getting more than you needed.
For more ideas about how to pay for medicines, how to remember to take them, and when to call your doctor, see Quick Tips: Taking Medicines Wisely.
How can your provincial health or private insurance plan help you save money?
Take time to find out about how your provincial health plan covers medicine costs. Prescription coverage varies from province to province. Some plans may cover only generic medicines if they are available. With some provincial health plans, you may have to pay more for medicines that are not on the plan's list of preferred medicines. Your provincial health plan also may not pay for certain medicines such as weight-loss and hair-growth drugs. Ask the customer service representative whether your medicines are covered, whether you need to buy at certain pharmacies, and about your copayment. Your provincial health plan may list this information on its website.
Check what your copayment for prescription drugs will be, the maximum amount the plan will pay in a year, and other details. When you buy medicines, find out which payment option will be the least expensive. Some things to consider include whether there is a generic version of a preferred medicine and whether an over-the-counter equivalent costs less than your copayment. Remember, having the right information can save you time and money.
Are prescription medicines always needed?
There may be an over-the-counter alternative for your prescription medicine. For example, non-prescription naproxen (Aleve) is a fraction of the cost of the prescription equivalent Naprosyn. (Generic versions of over-the-counter medicines can save you even more money.) Often non-prescription equivalents of prescription medicines come in lower strengths, so get instructions from your doctor or pharmacist on how to take them.
In the case of antibiotics, research has found that they are not always needed. For example, up to two-thirds of people who have acute sinusitis improve on their own without antibiotic treatment.footnote 1 Your doctor might advise you to take a wait-and-see approach before you buy expensive antibiotics.
How can your doctor help?
To get your doctor to help, tell him or her that your prescription medicine bill is a financial burden. Ask for drugs that are less expensive but that work just as well. Often, a condition can be treated with one of several different medicines, and your doctor may be able to prescribe one that costs less.
You might ask your doctor if he or she has medicine samples, vouchers, or other resources for you, especially when you are trying out a new medicine to see whether it will work.
What other resources are available?
See whether the pharmaceutical company that makes your medicine has a patient assistance program. Some companies offer free or discounted drugs for people who cannot afford them. These companies often require that your doctor contact them first about your case. Your doctor will need to be involved, and the application process can be complex. You may need to provide documentation to verify your income.
Check with your provincial government to see if there is a program that may be able to help you with medicine costs. Most provinces have programs for seniors and people with disabilities or low incomes.
If you have a rare disease, contact the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders. This organization help people who have rare diseases find better and more affordable access to medicines. For more information, see the organization's website: www.raredisorders.ca.
If you are a veteran, you may qualify for prescription drug coverage through Veterans Affairs Canada. For more information, see the agency's website: www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/services/healthcare.
Other Places To Get Help
- Ah-See K (2011). Sinusitis (acute), search date June 2011. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Other Works Consulted
- Kass-Bartelmes BL, Bosco L (2002). Prescription Drug Therapies: Reducing Costs and Improving Outcomes. Research in Action Issue No. 8 (AHRQ Publication No. 02-0045). Rockville, MD: Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
- Kesselheim AS, Choudhry NK (2008). The international pharmaceutical market as a source of low-cost prescription drugs for U.S. patients. Annals of Internal Medicine, 148(8): 614–619.
- Tablet splitting (2009). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 51(1318): 62–63.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2011). Coverage of personal importations. Regulatory Procedures Manual 2011, chap. 9. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/RegulatoryProceduresManual/UCM074300.pdf.
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015
Current as of: November 20, 2015
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