Prescription drugs are an often-overlooked area when it comes to saving on medical costs. Most folks do not realize that generic drugs must have the same chemical ingredients, in the same dosages as their brand name counter parts. The only differences between the brand and the generic are (1) the color of the pill, (2) the shape of the pill, and (3) occasionally the starch filler around the active ingredient might be different.
We regularly see employees switch their prescriptions from the brand to the generic and save hundreds of dollars per year (per prescription)…for some the savings equate to thousands of dollars! And insurance companies are increasingly shifting their plans to only pay for generics when one is available. Does that mean you cannot take the non-preferred brand??? Not at all, but it is worth discussing with your doctor because the brand name drugs are only getting more expensive.
I have 10 good stories I could share but here is a brief one:
When we were thinking about having children, my wife started taking pre-natal vitamins (two to be exact). Sure enough, that fateful day arrived and we went to the doctor to confirm our suspicions and yep, she was pregnant! Her doctor went over all the things that we needed to keep in mind and then said “well since you are pregnant, you need to stop the other two and we are going to put you on this new vitamin.” The term “new” immediately sent my “antenna” up and so I asked a few questions.
– “Doc, what can you tell me about this new vitamin?”
– “What is the difference between this one and the two she is already taking?”
– “Is this a non-preferred brand name drug according to my plan?”
– “What are some of the side effects of this drug?”
Her response was “it is a non-preferred drug.” She went on to explain “well, this is the same thing as the two she is already taking…but it combines those two pills into one…so all she has to do is take one pill.”
So instead of paying $8 for the two pills, I could pay $50 for one pill of the same thing. I told her “no thank you.” We can keep the same pills we have been taking all along.
What should you ask your doctor before he/she writes the prescription?
1. “Is there something over-the-counter that I can take for this?” By the way, if the response is “yes, but you cannot get this dosage over-the-counter” then ask, can I take two or three pills and get the same effect? For example, I injured my knee and my doctor prescribed 800mg of ibuprofen. I can get it over-the-counter in 200mg pills. So I asked, can I take 4 pills (since I already have ibuprofen at home) and have the same effect.
2. “My plan has a big cost difference between the brand and the generic, if possible I would like to try the generic before having to take the expensive brand name drug.” This is especially true if you are just diagnosed with a new condition. If I am just diagnosed with high blood pressure (or any other condition), I want to try the least expensive treatment option and see if it will work before trying the most expensive.
3. If you must have the expensive brand name drug, you want to ask “Do you have any samples of this medicine?” Some drug companies are giving away more pills than they are selling in the pharmacy and the drug reps are keeping the cabinets stocked. You just need to ask. My wife did that with one of her drugs and the doctor gave her a 3 month supply. It saved us $110. However, be careful…you only want samples if you must take the expensive brand name drug or if the samples are for a short term condition. You do not want to try the samples if you have a long term condition and have not tried the generic.
That said, prescription drugs save lives and prevent hospital stays. Make sure you take a list of your medications and their dosages with you when you go see your doctor. If you are prescribed a medicine by your doctor (or nurse practitioner), you need to take it as directed until it is gone. Do not split pills unless directed. But you are also ultimately responsible for your care and need to ask lots of questions when prescribed a medication.