16 Questions that Could Save You Money on Medication
Asking the right questions could save you big bucks on expensive prescriptions. In ‘Your Best Health Care Now,’ Frank Lalli shares how.
What can I expect from this prescription?
Whether you’re in for a mild infection or a chronic condition, your doctor should be able to explain clearly what the medication will do, and when you should expect to start feeling better. If you aren’t feeling any different after that amount of time, check back with your physician. “Ask if you’re wasting your money—and risking your health—on the wrong medicine,” writes Frank Lalli in Your Best Health Care Now: Get Doctor Discounts, Save with Better Health Insurance, and Find Affordable Prescriptions. (Here are more questions to ask your doctor before taking antibiotics.)
Why are you suggesting this dosage?
“Generally, you want to take the least amount of medicine that works,” writes Lalli. “But there’s a financial angle as well.” Prescriptions with a higher dose of the same drug could end up costing hundreds of dollars more, depending on where you shop. Pay especially close attention if you’re visiting a dispensing doctor who gives you the drug directly instead of having it filled by a pharmacist. In 2015, studies across several states found that dispensing physicians charged way more for unusual dosages of common drugs like a generic Vicodin and certain pain medications. (Don't miss these secrets pain doctors won't tell you.)
Can I use a lower-cost generic?
Generic drugs have the same active ingredients, strength, quality, and safety as their name-brand counterparts, but they can cost hundreds of dollars less. Don’t give up if your doctor or pharmacist tells you there’s no replacement—a low-cost alternative is bound to hit the market eventually. (Try these other almost effortless ways to be more frugal.)
Is there an OTC alternative?
Over-the-counter drugs won’t usually put more than a $20 dent in your wallet, so it’s worth asking if you really need a prescription for treatments like nasal sprays. “But it’s always wise to check the active ingredients carefully with your pharmacist before you make a purchase,” writes Lalli. After all, your pharmacist might know even more about specific OTC meds than your doctor does. Read this guide to the best OTC pain relievers for every ache.
Or would a prescription be cheaper than this over-the-counter product?
Sometimes, a prescription medication actually costs less than a similar OTC option. For instance, a prescription of generic version of the stomach acid reducer Prilosec can cost between 13 and 33 cents per capsule, but its over-the-counter alternative is priced typically priced upwards of 47 cents for each pill. Check out these other OTC medication mistakes you're making.
Can I get free samples?
If your physician writes an expensive prescription, it’s worth asking if you can get your hands on any samples that your doctor’s office has lying around in storage. “Drug companies hand out around $18 billion worth of samples a year,” writes Lalli. “They could be yours, if you ask.”
Is there a manufacturer’s discount card for the drug?
“Ohio pharmacist Roni Bennett said that in her experience, manufacturers offer volume-building savings cards for nine out of ten of their brand-name drugs,” writes Lalli. Drug salesmen sometimes leave savings cards for their company’s priciest medications with doctors’ offices, so ask your physician about what offers are available. If your health care provider doesn’t know of any, visit the manufacturer’s website to see if you can find one yourself.
Is it OK to split the pill or take it every other day?
If you halve the number of pills you’re taking, you’ll cut your costs in half too. You’ll see an indent on pills that are FDA-approved to be cut in half, but you should still always check with your doctor before taking fewer than called for. Your physician might also approve your taking half of a pill that doesn’t have that scoring. (Find out how to find a doctor you can trust.)
Can I start with a 14-day prescription?
Don’t automatically start with a month-long supply of a medication for a chronic condition. See if you can do a test run with a two-week supply first while you gauge if you’re getting benefits or if you can deal with the side effects. That way, you’ll know if you want to stick with it before committing to the prescription any longer. (Here's how to save money on hospital bills.)
What are my insurance plan’s preferred drug stores?
Pharmacies can set any price they want for a drug, but you could save about five to fifteen percent by sticking with one of your insurer’s preferred stores, which might also be the only places that cover your plan’s copay. Once you have a list of a few locations, check each store’s price to see if the discounts are best at one of them. Check back with your insurer every year to check if the list has changed. “Insurers shuffle stores on and off these preferred lists so routinely that sometimes even they can’t keep the information straight,” writes Lalli.
Is my drug in my insurance’s approved list?
Insurance companies have a list of drugs they will cover, and they will add or remove from that list if there’s a cheaper, safer, or more effective option. But if a specialty medication with no alternative isn’t covered by your insurance, there’s still hope. Insurance companies often will agree to cover a specific medication if a doctor asks them to make an exception for a patient. If the company turns you down, you can appeal your case to a judge. Watch out for these 10 hospital costs that are ridiculously expensive.
Will my pharmacy make a price-match guarantee?
Do some research to find out if other local pharmacies offer better prices than your go-to distributor. Even large chain drug stores are often willing to match prices if you find a lower price at another nearby pharmacy. Just don’t press your luck too much. “Do not expect the pharmacy to match prices you might find online or from an overseas supplier,” writes Lalli. “Generally, the store manager’s matching policy applies to prices you can document from a nearby bricks-and-mortar competitor.” Here are more habits to steal from great money-savers.
Will paying in cash save money?
Sometimes, simply paying with cash will give you a discount. Insurance plans with a short approved-drug list or a high deductible are especially likely to have lower cash prices. Use a site like GoodRx, WeRx, or Blink Health to find competitive prices. Don't miss these other reasons it's better to pay in cash.
Can any assistance programs help me?
Ask your pharmacist if there are any nonprofit, government, or drug manufacturer programs that could take on some of your financial burden. “Since you will be discussing personal details, it’s best to arrange a private meeting,” says Lalli. “Show up with your drug list and be prepared to discuss your finances.” Particularly expensive drugs could get fully covered, even for people from well-off households.
Is this drug on a deep-discount generics list?
Big chains like CVS, Walmart, and Costco each have lists of hugely discounted generic drugs that you can get for $4 to $10. Ask the pharmacist to print you a copy of the list, and see if your medication on it. Just be careful—it needs to be the exact same version, right down to dosage and form, such as gel or extended release. “If your prescription is for a slightly different dosage or type, the store might ask you for $300 extra,” writes Lalli. “Then the programs are like magic: they make the money in your wallet disappear.” Still, you can check with your doctor to see if one of those the exceptionally cheap generics could be as effective as your current prescription. (Related: Here are more effortless ways to be more thrifty.)
Want to save even more on health care?
Dubbed The Health Care Detective, Frank Lalli, special health correspondent for Parade, devoted himself to finding great health care for less money after getting diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. He spent three years conducting research and interviewing more than 300 experts to come up with the information he shares in Your Best Health Care Now. Pick up a copy to learn more of his money-saving tips.