Your Medicare Advisor

7 Tips for Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

prescription-drugs-pharmacyfrom – – by Bart Astor

‘How this writer shopped around and discovered a valuable secret’

My health insurer recently refused to pay for one of my prescription drugs because I don’t have the specific disease the drug is supposed to treat. Instead, I have some other condition that also happens to be remedied by the pill. If you think this decision makes sense, then you’re a perfect candidate to work for an insurance company.

The drug is expensive, about $30 per pill, and most people with my condition need about 56 pills (four weeks’ worth). That brings the cost to over $1,600. If the insurer had approved, my copay would have been $40. So when it denied my coverage it was a lot of money.

Ah, but the story doesn’t end there, and, actually, there’s a happy ending. In fact, there’s a potential happy ending for all of you who are stuck paying for an expensive drug without the benefit of having prescription drug coverage or if you’re one of those with a prescription drug insurance donut hole.

Call the Drug Maker

Most of you have seen the pharmaceutical ads on TV or in print that say something to the effect of, “If you need assistance paying for this medicine, [fill in the drug company] will help.”

So when my coverage was denied, I called the maker of the prescribed drug and asked what kind of help it could provide. I anticipated the company saying it would take a percentage off if I could prove I was low-income and couldn’t afford the full price. That’s not what it said at all.

The rep said the drug company would try to intervene with my insurer to help convince it that mine is a coverable condition. Remember, it’s in a pharmaceutical maker’s interest to convince insurers that its drug can be used for multiple conditions. While the appeal was playing out — likely to last months — the drug maker agreed to provide up to three months worth of the pill at no charge to me. That, too, would take some time — a couple of weeks to get the drug to me — which wasn’t going to help me when I needed it, which was right away. Still, I thought I’d pursue that path.

Tips to Save on Prescription Drugs

1. Unless the doctor makes it a point to prescribe the brand name, buy the generic. In almost all cases, the active ingredients are the same and should save you a bundle, even if your insurance covers you. Copays for generic drugs are usually less than for the name brand.

2. Ask your doctor for free samples. Most doctors have samples of branded drugs from pharmaceutical companies and while that may not be the full complement you need, it will reduce the number you have to purchase. (For the downside of free samples, see Why Free Drug Samples Can Cost You Too Much.)

3. If larger doses of the drugs are available and the pill comes in tablet form, get your doctor to prescribe the larger dose. Then, cut the pills in half (or in quarters, as appropriate). Make sure the particular tablet can be cut with an inexpensive pill cutter available at most drugstores. But note that there are some pills that cannot be cut or are too small to cut. Your pharmacist can advise you accordingly.

5. Get comparative prices, especially from the big box stores (such as Costco and Walmart).

6. Consider using a mail-order pharmacy service. But be sure to check out the particular pharmacy thoroughly. And although Canadian pharmacies are generally reputable, steer clear of companies from other countries.

7. Call the customer service department at the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug. Many companies offer discounts or free samples, especially for people who are low-income or simply on a fixed income, as many of us are who are retired. Some companies will appeal to your insurer on your behalf to cover the drug.


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3 years ago

I only take one prescription. I don’t have drug coverage, so I use GoodRx to help get a discount. I save about 75% off of the cost.

5 years ago

do you offer part d plans

fred wolfe
7 years ago

Does anyone know a reputable Canadian Mail Order Pharmacy?

John Scheufler
7 years ago

I feel your pain. My medicare is higher than what my United Healthcare with my company was. We have been working on what to do this this time since enrollment is happening. Now my insurance at best with higher deductibles is going to be at least 30% higher. So much for the wealthy paying more (which would be unfair anyway), but we will all be paying more thanks to Obamacare. Yes a few come out better, but the majority of us are getting hammered. I have two medications I have to take to live and they will now cost me $400 a month, that on top of all other health services. Don’t think there is a solution except a REAL overhaul of the healthcare system. Sad to bring politics into it, but until a new administration with a desire to truly fix this is in office, we are stuck.

Carl Cameron
7 years ago

This is our first year on Medicare. We have Medicare, BCBS of Kansas City supplemental, and a prescription drug plan also offered through Kansas City BSBC. Coincidentally, our coverage last year, when not on Medicare was also all with BCBS of Kansas City. My medications have not changed and we are getting them from the same provider, Express Scripts, but my Lantus Insulin and others drugs are markedly higher. Actually very expensive!

Since we are retired we do have a large savings put away for retirement, but our medical costs have now actually increased. I did not anticipate this and over time it could impact our retirement fund and ability to continue on. Do to our savings, we do not qualify, nor would I take any subsidies, but I cannot understand why a program as large as Medicare is more expensive than what I had to pay for BCBS prior to being forced on Medicare? By the way, my employer did not subsidize my BSBS, we paid 100% for it, so this really is ‘apples to apples’….make no since!

Any ideas? Perspective? The renewal period starts next month, so again we will shop the market place, but I do not have my hopes up. Seems like anything our Government controls is just a big expensive mess! God help us all…

marie gardella
8 years ago

I live in NYC at the this time but im thinking about relocating to North Carolina. I need some advice about my medical ins. At the time I have MEDICARE and Supplemental ins Hunmana plan N. What would be better for me should i stay with my present Ins. or shop for a Medicare ADVANTAGE PLAN hmo. if the latter which are the best ones.?

7 years ago
Reply to  marie gardella

First, you should find any medigap insurance (not talking Advantage) much less expensive once you leave NY. NC is fairly reasonable as is SC and VA. Florida is almost double the cost of those three states but probably on a par with NY. I have heard from some insurance brokers that in Florida it is more cost efficient to go with Medicare Advantage. Shop around to see what the best prices are. They vary considerably from insurer to insurer. As do the various drug plans available. You should check all of them, Cigna, Humana, Mutual of Omaha, Colonial Penn, etc. to see who is going to give you the best for your own individual needs and circumstance. It’s a lot of research again but can be well worth it. Pricing is all based on your zip code. Good luck.

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