How to pay for your medications and support your health – InsuranceNewsNet

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NERD WALLET

NerdWallet

The cost of prescription drugs in the WE can be enough to make you sick.

What you pay varies greatly depending on the drug, the pharmacy, your insurance plan, and your deductible, among other factors. A drug that might have been cheap or at least affordable the last time you filled it out might be much more expensive or not covered at all next time.

Often people have no idea how much a prescription costs until they get to the pharmacy counter, says Leigh PurvisDirector of Costs and Access to Health Care for AARP Public Policy Institute.

Still, it’s important to find a way to buy your medications. People who don’t take prescribed medications because of the cost could end up sicker – or die.

“What is a potentially relatively minor problem today, like high cholesterol, could turn into a much more serious problem, like a heart attack, if you don’t treat it,” Purvis says.

CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR AND YOUR INSURANCE PLAN

Your doctors may not know how much your medications are costing you, because they deal with dozens of insurance plans with different drug formularies or lists, and how they’re covered, Purvis says. In addition, insurers can enter into agreements with certain pharmacies, so that a drug that costs $60 at one might cost $160 to another.

If buying a drug is a challenge, your doctor may be able to suggest alternatives, such as a generic drug or another type of drug. Two other questions you can ask: if a medication you’ve been taking for a while is still needed, and what lifestyle changes might reduce or eliminate the need for prescriptions.

If you have insurance, carefully review your drug coverage options each year during open enrollment — that annual period in the fall when you choose your health insurance for the following year. Make a list of all your medications with their dosages and check how these are covered by each plan. Insurers change their forms regularly, so you may need to switch plans to get the best coverage. And even if your medications are covered, you’ll usually have to pay for prescriptions out of pocket until you reach your deductible.

Your insurer or pharmacy may offer a mail-order option to cut costs, but don’t assume that’s your best bet. Shopping around could lead to significant savings.

SEE PRICES ONLINE

Start your search online. The number of online pharmacies has exploded in recent years, giving you plenty of opportunities to save.

Amazon launched a full-service pharmacy in 2020, joining more established dispensaries, such as Costco.com and HealthWarehouse.com. On top of that, several limited service startups – including Cost Plus, GeniusRx, Honeybee, Ro Pharmacy and ScriptCo – offer deals on generic drugs. Startups don’t typically take out insurance, but their prices can be lower than the typical co-pay, according to Consumer Reports. For example, the consumer research organization found that a 30-day supply of 20 milligrams of atorvastatin – a cholesterol drug – ranged from $14.60 at Amazon and $13.99 at Costco.comat $3 at Honeybee and just 54 cents at ScriptCo. In contrast, insurance co-payments for workers with prescription drug coverage averaged $11 at $12 last year for the cheapest drugs, including many generics, according to KFF, the nonpartisan healthcare think tank formerly known as Kaiser Family Foundation.

Your savings may be offset by membership fees: Amazon’s Prime membership – which you’ll need if you want the lowest prices – is $139 per year or $14.99 per month, while ScriptCo charges $140 per year or $50 per quarter. Costco has a contribution of $60 per year, but you don’t need to be a member to order prescriptions online or at its outlet stores.

LOOK FOR OTHER DISCOUNTS

GoodRx has a website and app that lets you compare prices at nearby drugstore chains, and it provides free coupons that can save up to 80% off the list price. Another price comparison tool that includes local pharmacies can be found at NeedyMeds, a non-profit organization that helps people find drug manufacturing discount programs and other ways to reduce drug costs. In addition, several chains including Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger and HEB have discount programs.

An often overlooked alternative for Medicare beneficiaries is the Extra Help program, which aims to help seniors with limited income and resources pay for their medications, Purvis says. You can apply online or by calling 800-772-1213.

BEWARE OF DRUG INTERACTIONS

Finding the best prices can take a lot of time and effort. And people who aggressively shop for the cheapest drugs could face a hidden risk if they get multiple drugs from different pharmacies, Purvis warns. Without a single pharmacist overseeing their care, they risk potentially dangerous drug interactions.

You can use an online drug interaction checker like the one on WebMD, but ideally you should ask your GP or pharmacist to review your complete list of medications at least once a year.

“It’s really important to make sure someone has an eye on the big picture,” Purvis says.

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score”. E-mail: [email protected]. Twitter: @lizweston.

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