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Prescription Medication Costs: How to Save Safely

Prescription medications can be vital to maintaining your health and treating diseases, but some can also be very expensive. In many cases, you may have some options to help you control your costs for certain prescription drugs.

Generics Save Money
Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether the prescription drug is available in a generic form. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that generic drugs have the same active ingredient, strength, dosage, and quality as brand name drugs. While there is no difference in performance, there is generally a huge difference in price. The FDA reports that, on average, a generic drug costs 80 to 85 percent less than the brand name drug.

Check Prices
Check with several pharmacies about what they charge for a particular prescription drug and whether it’s the pharmacy’s best price. While your insurance company may set a uniform copayment amount no matter where you shop, many pharmacies offer 30-day supplies of common generic drugs at $4—which may be less than your copay.

Keep in mind, though, that pharmacy shopping isn’t always a good thing. That’s because your pharmacist needs to be aware of all prescriptions and supplements you take in order to help you avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions and to help maximize the effectiveness of your prescription drugs. Ideally, you should find a pharmacy you like and fill all of your prescriptions there. If you do business with more than one pharmacy, make sure all of the pharmacies you use are aware of all of your current prescription medications and supplements.

Buy in Bulk When Appropriate
If you have a long-term prescription, ask about bulk pricing. Buying in bulk may reduce the per-dose cost, and also may reduce the number of out-of-pocket copays (be sure to check expiration dates when buying in bulk).

Online Pharmacies
Be careful about ordering prescriptions through online pharmacies. While there are many established American-based online pharmacies that are properly licensed and operate legally, there are many more—often from other countries—that lure customers with artificially low prices or don’t require a prescription, and sell unregulated products that may be ineffective or even dangerous. A drug may contain an incorrect active ingredient, the dosage may be wrong, it might not even contain the listed active ingredient, or it could include other ingredients that may cause harm. Online pharmacies that dispense controlled substances based on brief questionnaires or remote consultations with supposed pharmacists, and without requiring a prescription, may be doing so illegally. Protect yourself by ensuring that an online pharmacy is located in the U.S., and a licensed pharmacist is available to answer your questions. If the pharmacy is shipping prescription drugs to Iowa patients, it must be licensed by Iowa Board of Pharmacy. Online pharmacies with a ".pharmacy" domain have been vetted and approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and can be a trusted source for pharmaceuticals.

Government and Other Assistance Options
When the cost of a prescription drug becomes a major financial issue or prevents you from accessing a needed medication, there are assistance programs that may be able to help. Government assistance programs include IA Health Link (Iowa’s managed Medicaid program administered through the Iowa Department of Human Services), the Social Security Administration (which administers Supplemental Security Income and Medicare), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans. A free private resource, called Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), helps uninsured, under-insured, and financially struggling patients who lack prescription coverage, access to prescription assistance programs that offer medicines for free or nearly free. Finally, many pharmaceutical drug companies offer a patient assistance program (PAP) that offers certain patients medications at a reduced cost or even free.

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