How Can You Afford Your Medications?

May 6, 2009 | Dr. Cary Presant | Health Musings
How Can You Afford Your Medications?

image by: Karolina Grabowska

Options are available to limit your out of pocket drug costs. You just have to know what questions to ask your partner...your doctor

The cost of medications is increasing daily. Drug expenses and even just the cost of the co-payments associated with medicines have frequently become so high that many patients do not take their medications as prescribed, and find themselves either skipping medications or stopping a prescribed medicine altogether. When faced with high drug costs people have been making decisions that are harmful to their care.

But it is doesn't have to be that way. The good news is you may be able to lower your medication costs significantly by asking your physician the following questions:

The first question to ask is "Is there a generic available?" Generic brands are much less expensive than proprietary brands, and even if they are not exactly a duplicate of the proprietary drug which the doctor wishes to prescribe, they are often close enough that the physician is willing to substitute the less expensive generic.

In addition, although you may have a health plan that partially covers the cost of your drugs, if a generic is prescribed, many other stores provide very low cost generics that are even less expensive than the co-insurance charged by your health plan for drugs. Be certain to compare carefully large pharmaceutical programs with the programs provided by your health insurance. Examples of these companies with low cost generic programs are Costco, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and the large supermarket chains such as Ralphs.

A second question is, “Do you have samples of this drug available?” Many physicians have samples of frequent prescribed medications and can make these available at no charge to the patient, even on each and every repeated visit to the physician’s office.

Another important question is, “Is there a higher dose pill that can be cut in half so that I can save on my drug costs?” Many medications including high blood pressure medications, lipid lowering drugs, etc., can be prescribed in a double dose or quadruple dose form, and then cut by the patient using a very inexpensive pill cutter to obtain the right dosage for daily administration. The cost of a patient’s prescriptions can be reduced by up to 70% in this fashion.

The next question for the physician is, “Is there a pharmaceutical assistance program for this medicine?” If your income is below a certain threshold, which may actually be a very high income for many expensive drugs, such as the cancer treating drugs which I prescribe, the drug company may make the drugs available for free to you regardless of your insurance program. The nurse or physician will know how to contact the company, or you may obtain information about that company through the internet by searching for the name of the drug which you are taking.

You can explore whether there is a community or national charitable program which can provide you with help. Be certain to search on the Internet for charitable programs for your disease, and charitable programs associated with the name of the drug you are taking. Many states also have drug assistance programs, and you can check this out with the medical care department of your state government.

Navigating the world of medicine is not easy. But asking your physician a few questions is. You just have to know which ones to ask your partner...your doctor.

 Dr. Cary Presant is an internist, hematologist, and oncologist in Los Angeles, CA. He is a past president of both the American Cancer Society California Division and the Association of Community Cancer Centers. As a national expert in healthcare, cancer research, and cancer treatments, he is the author of the book “Navigating American Medicine” soon to be published. More information can be found at

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