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Q: Save Money On Prescription Drugs ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Save Money On Prescription Drugs
Category: Health > Medicine
Asked by: pleaseteach-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 14 Jul 2005 09:45 PDT
Expires: 13 Aug 2005 09:45 PDT
Question ID: 543504
I would like information on how to save money on prescription drugs.
Please provide as much information as possible with references and
websites if available.
Subject: Re: Save Money On Prescription Drugs
Answered By: knowledge_seeker-ga on 15 Jul 2005 08:12 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi pleaseteach-ga,

With the high cost of prescriptions and insurance, many people are
looking at ways to save money on prescription drugs. Frighteningly, in
their desperation, a lot of those people are trying purchase their
drugs through illegal and unsafe means. This is a dangerous practice
and I won?t be addressing any of those methods here.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which consumers can reduced
their overall drug costs, both in the short term (a single
prescription) and over the long term. I?ll summarize those methods and
then provide you with more detailed information on each one.

In the interest of disclosure, note that I have drawn the basic
material for this answer from a more comprehensive answer I provided
in 2003:

For knowledge_seeker-ga: Saving money on prescription drugs

For your answer, I have updated all of the information, provided new
links to more recent articles, and have summarized long
overly-detailed sections so they are easier to read. You may want to
review my previous answer for more information, keeping in mind that
some of the material may be outdated and that some of the links no
longer work.


  1 ? Reduce the amount of medication you must take ? Brown Bag Review
  2 - Comparison Shop for pharmacies ? prices vary!
  3 - Control Quantities - use trial sizes, free samples, bulk
  4 - Use Generic and /or Less Expensive Brands
  5 ? Splitting pills
  6 ? Patient Assistance Programs
  7 ? Veterans Benefits
  8 ? Use of Compounders 
  9 ? Join a Drug Cooperative
 10 ? Mail order (or online ordering)
 11 ? Purchase out of the country (Canada, Mexico) 
 12 ? Health/Drug Discount Cards


Before even thinking about comparing drug prices and looking for
discounts, consumers should make sure that what they are taking is
really necessary. It is not unusual for patients to continue refilling
prescriptions long after the need for the medication has passed. This
is especially true of elderly patients.

The best way to reduce the amount spent on drugs is to have your
doctor conduct a "Brown Bag Review."   Put all of your medications in
a bag and ask your pharmacist or your doctor to review them and
suggest any less expensive alternatives. Also determine whether or not
all your medications are still needed.

Iowa Priority's Brown Bag Assessment Program

Premera Blue Cross asks patients to brown bag it

Meijer Pharmacy Brown Bag Program


Pharmacies may charge widely different prices for the same medicine.
Call around and get prices before filling your prescription.

?Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says the results of a statewide survey
of prescription drug prices shows that prices for the same medication
can vary significantly among local pharmacies and can differ widely
across the state.?

NY Survey Shows Value of Comparison Shopping for Rx Drugs

NY State Attorrney General?s Office Prescription Drug Price Website

Ohio Attorney General?s Office Prescription Drug Information site

Comparison Shopping Can Reduce Prescription Drug Prices


There's nothing more wasteful than buying a 30-day supply of tablets,
only to find after 7 days that the medication either doesn't work or
has adverse effects. Asking the doctor for a short-term prescription
for any new medication prescribes is a good way to prevent

Free Samples are a good way to begin a new prescription. This allows
you to test the product before committing any money at all. However,
there is a caveat ? you?ll want to avoid "free samples" if they lead
to refills at higher prices. Usually only the newest name-brand drugs
are promoted through free samples. You may be better off purchasing
another lower-priced brand or generic equivalent if they are

?When starting a new medication, you may want to order a small
quantity the first time you have the prescription filled. To save
money in the long run, be sure that any new medicines work for you
before buying larger quantities.?

How To Save on Prescription Medication,a,3,q,456207.asp


Generic Drugs are less expensive than name brands. Also, many drugs
are produced by different companies and are available under different
brand names. Always ask your doctor if your prescription is available
in generic or under another brand for lower cost.

WIKIPEDIA ? Generic Drug

??researchers estimated that substitution of a generic for a
brand-name drug whenever available would have saved approximately $46
per year for adults younger than 65 years of age and approximately $78
per year for older adults.?

Potential Savings from Substituting Generic Drugs for Brand-Name
Drugs: Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, 1997?2000

Summary of above article

PRIMERA BLUE CROSS: Savings with Generic Drugs ? Savings Calculator


Splitting pills has become a common way to reduce prescription costs,
especially for long-term prescriptions. In general, high-dose pills
sell for the same amount (or only slightly more) than low-dose pills
of the same medication. If the pill is scored for easy splitting, it
makes sense to buy the larger dose and split them in half.

Major insurer pushes pill-splitting savings; United Healthcare
encourages patients to cut drugs in half


It should be noted that not all pills are safe or appropriate to
split, and one should never attempt to split the contents of capsules.

??the VA did emphasize that it does not recommend tablet splitting
because not all tablets can be successfully split, for example, coated
tablets, timed-release tablets and tablets that crumble easily. Many
drugs are not scored, meaning they're not produced with a dividing
line to help split them.?

Pill Splitting a Good or Bad Idea?

?Researchers find that some tablets break into two even doses when
someone attempts to split them in half. Others crumble, fly, and crack
into more than two pieces.? [see table on this page]

Two For The Price Of One: Beauty of Pill-Splitting Catches On


Some pharmaceutical manufacturers and some states offer a limited
supply of free or low-cost medications to patients through PATIENT
ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS.   These programs are normally a "last resort" for
patients who are unable to use other programs and who otherwise would
not be able to afford needed medications.

To be accepted into most of these programs, the patient's income must
fall within the limits established by his particular sponsor. Other
criteria are taken into account as well ? for example AIDS, transplant
or cancer patients in need of very expensive drugs are often
considered even if their income range is higher than the program
normally allows.

However, it should be cautioned, that although pharmaceutical drug
plans may give discounts on their name-brands, consumers may find
better prices through the purchase of generics.


NAMI: Patient Prescription Drug Assistance Programs
Free or low-cost medications provided by pharmaceutical companies

PhRMA Directory of Prescription Drug Patient Assistance Programs

RxAssist: Accessing Pharmaceutical Patient Assistance Programs Prescription Drug Assistance Programs

RxHope: The Heart of the Pharmaceutical Industry

More here:


There are many prescription programs offered to active, retired,
and/or low-income veterans.

?VA provides medication to eligible veterans who are receiving care
from VA medical facilities, and to those veterans authorized by VA to
receive care from private physicians at VA expense. VA pharmacies
cannot fill prescriptions written by a private physician unless the
veteran is specifically eligible.?

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding VA Health Care Services

TRICARE: A Dept. of Defense program provides pharmacy benefits for
uniformed services beneficiaries 65 years of age and older. You must
be registered in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System
(DEERS), and the new benefits may require you to be enrolled In
Medicare Part B.



Compounding is a highly controversial practice being used by some
companies to exploit a loophole in the FDA regulations.

Compounding is when pharmacists or health care professionals prepare a
specialized drug product to fill an individual patient's prescription
when an approved drug can't fill the bill. The intent of the law is to
allow a relaxation of the FDA definition of "approved" drug so that a
doctor can mix or change ingredients of a drug to suit a particular
patient. However, some companies calling themselves "small
compounders" are instead mixing up large commercial batches of drugs
using unregulated ingredients.

"Whenever possible, FDA would recommend that patients use an approved
drug. We have more data and reporting requirements on those to assure
us of their safety and effectiveness."

Pharmacy Compounding:  Customizing Prescription Drugs

The Practice of Pharmacy Compounding

Safety concerns grow over pharmacy-mixed drugs

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS State and Federal Oversight of Drug Compounding by
Pharmacies ; Testimony Before the Committee on Health, Education,
Labor, and Pensions, U.S. Senate  (pdf document - 17 pages)

Concluding Observations: 

?While drug compounding is important and useful for patient care,
problems that have occurred raise legitimate concerns about the
quality and safety of compounded drugs and the oversight of pharmacies
that compound them. However, the extent of problems related to
compounding is unknown. FDA maintains that drug compounding activities
are generally subject to FDA oversight under its authority to oversee
the safety and quality of new drugs, but the agency generally relies
on states to provide the necessary oversight?.?


Discount clubs or cooperatives offer members savings on prescription
drugs. Before joining a co-op, check on the availability and cost of
your particular prescription. Not all clubs offer discounts on every
medication. Some programs are specifically for certain drugs,
diseases, or state residents. Shop around.

CONSUMER REPORTS - Saving money on prescription medicines

First HIV Drug Co-Op Cuts Costs


Purchasing prescriptions from legitimate online pharmacies *within the
United States* has become an acceptable practice for reducing drug
costs. However, the operative term here is ?LEGITIMATE.?  Discerning
the good from the bad (and/or dangerous) entails assessing the
licensing of the online pharmacy, the availability of a pharmacist to
talk to your doctor, and of course price and availability of the drug.

CBS NEWS: Criteria for verifying a legitimate online pharmacy

Defying Governmental Opinions and Safety Concerns, Millions of
Americans Turn to Non-Traditional Online Pharmacies

Check with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to determine
whether a pharmacy is licensed.

Also look for web sites with a seal saying VIPPS, this means it's a
Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site.

FDA- Buying Medicines and Medical Products Online

It's easy to get a prescription drug online, but is it safe and legal?


Ordering prescriptions from other countries such as Canada and Mexico
is risky and is illegal. Buying medications from other countries goes
against a 1987 law forbidding the importation of prescription drugs.

However, A 2004 FDA report found that Americans imported $1.4 billion
worth of prescription drugs and that no action had been taken against
anyone who purchased those drugs. In practice, the FDA doesn't bring
charges against consumers who order a supply of 90 days or less for
their personal consumption. In fact, at least 13 states and seven
local governments have taken action towards facilitating the
importation of drugs from Canada.

This is a complicated issue, and to address it fully is well beyond
the scope of this question. Instead I will just direct you to some
sites and articles that will help clarify the pros and cons of
importing prescription drugs.

FDA: Importing Prescription Drugs

?Congress is currently considering legislation to allow Americans to
buy lower-cost prescription drugs legally and safely from Canada and,
eventually, from other Western countries. If such a bill becomes law,
consumers will be able to order drugs from a list of foreign
pharmacies that have been approved by the U.S. government. Until then,
the practice remains illegal (although U.S. authorities have never
prosecuted individual Americans for importing drugs for their own
use), and consumers must continue to buy from abroad at their own

AARP: Prescription Drugs From Canada: How to Avoid Unsafe Drugs and Dubious Sellers

CBS NEWS IN DEPTH: Cross-border Rx

CANADA DRUG TALK: Fact - Importing Drugs for Personal Use is Permissible

GOOGLE ANSWERS: Buying Prescription Drugs from Canada


Some consumers use one or more discount cards hoping to reduce the
cost of prescriptions. To use the discount consumers pay a monthly fee
in return for reduced rates at participating pharmacies and health
care providers.

However the benefits (or lack thereof, can be deceiving). Discount
cards are NOT insurance. They are not accepted at all locations, they
are not regulated, they may not provide savings over generics or
online pharmacies, and in many cases, the sellers are not healthcare
or pharmaceutical providers. Consumer Reports specifically recommends
against the use of Prescription Drug Discount Cards because the plans
are so confusing, often highly restrictive, and it is nearly
impossible to compare one card against the other, especially for
patients who do not have internet access.

The following Types are discount cards are available to consumers:  

Non-Pharmaceutical Company Discount Cards
    Associations (eg AARP)
    Drug stores 
    Retailers (eg Kmart)
    Pharmacy Benefit Managers

Pharmaceutical Company Discount Cards
    (NOT the same as Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs)

State-Sponsored Discount Card Programs


     Membership fee
     Price of drugs
     Availability of the drugs needed 

     Age and income restrictions
     Quality Assurance (24/7 pharmacist)
     State or federal regulation

Comparative Chart of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers? Drug Discount Cards (2004)

Kaiser Foundation Report: Prescription Drugs Discount Cards: Current
Programs and Issues. (2002)

Medicare cards: No match for online prices

MEDICARE: Prescription Drug and Other Assistance Programs

AARP: Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards: Which One Should You Pick?


Prescription Drug Assistance -  A Guide To Programs And Benefits

AETNA Pharmacy: Tips on How to Save Money

Saving Money On Prescriptions
Interview with Rick Melcher, R.Ph., co-author of the book, Smart Buys Drug Wise

CONSUMER REPORTS: Saving money on prescription medicines

16 Ways to cut prescription costs

MONEY MAGAZINE: Cut your drug bills in half; Here are five ways to
take some of the pain out of buying medicine.

Thanks for your question pleaseteach-ga. This was a good opportunity
for me to update the information in my previous answer. Please let me
know if anything I?ve provided in unclear and I?ll be happy to clarify
it for you.



Search Strategy: 

I searched each of the methods of reducing drug costs individually and
combined the terms with [prescription or drugs]. For example, I
searched [Brown Bag Review prescription]

If you?d like more information on ways to reduce prescription costs, search: 
?ways to save on prescriptions? 
"ways to save on prescription drugs?
pleaseteach-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks for the wonderful response, tons of great link and information,
it's just what I'm looking for!

Subject: Re: Save Money On Prescription Drugs
From: kreuzerb-ga on 23 Aug 2005 16:10 PDT
Wow this is so informative.  I have been buying medication from for about a year now.  They seem to do a
good job, nice and easy.  It is crazy though that there are multiple
states, Illinois  Minnesota and I
think Nevada have drug buying programs from Canada.  Too bad
California doesn't.

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