Lower-Priced Prescription Drugs
by Kimberly Calder
No single insurance policy,
program, or discount card is likely to include every prescription
drug you may need. To find the best prices and services, you should
take some time to identify the program or programs that can best
meet your needs. Access to the Internet is almost a requirement
for this. You may want to ask a family member or friend to help
you, especially if your Internet access is in a public library,
community center, or Internet café.
Start by making a list of all
the prescription drugs you (or your loved one) take, with the exact dosage
and volume per prescription, and name of the manufactrer. For example:
Zoloft, 100 mg per day, 30 tablets, Pfizer Inc. Then look at the prescription
drug coverage you currently have. (Skip to the next section if you have
Use your existing
benefits and entitlements
If you have some coverage for prescription drugs, make sure youre
making the best use of it to minimize your out-of-pocket burden. Review
your health plan manual.
- Are you following
the plans rules about choice of pharmacy, the plans formulary
(list of drugs approved for coverage) or tiered co-payment
- Are you using a
mail order pharmacy for medications you take regularly over time? Most
plans offer savings for this. If you need drugs such as antibiotics
or painkillers right away or on a short-term basis, you can get them
at a community pharmacy even if you use mail order for your long-term
- Have you discussed
generic alternatives with your doctor?
Are You a Veteran
or a Dependent of a Veteran?
Veterans, retired military personnel, and their dependents may be eligible
for prescription drug assistance or coverage from the Department of
Veterans Affairs Health Administration (877-222-8387 or www.va.gov/health_benefits)
or TRICARE (www.tricare.osd.mil),
the U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System.
The companies that manufacture pharmaceuticals make limited amounts
of their products available to people in need at no or low cost through
patient assistance programs. The eligibility criteria, application forms,
and procedures for these programs vary, and a separate application may
have to be submitted for each prescription. Before you despair, use the
Internet to check out the organizations listed below. Their Web sites
often include other valuable health-related information.
is a nonprofit organization offering an easily searchable database of
patient assistance programs run by drug manufacturers and others. It
includes their application forms.
is the Web site of the National Organization for Rare Disorders,
or NORD. It administers medication assistance programs for uninsured
or underinsured individuals with specific rare conditions. MS is one
is operated by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America,
or PhRMA. It lists all the patient assistance programs of its members,
and helps users determine their eligibility online.
provides individuals 55 years of age and older with a confidential personalized
report of public and private
programs that can help them save on prescription drugs.
patient assistance programs are generally free, but a few organizations
will handle all the paperwork for you for a small fee. These include
the Free Medicine Foundation at www.medicineprogram.com
Can your state
pharmaceutical assistance program help?
Thirty-nine states have created or plan to launch some type of program
to provide pharmaceutical coverage or assistance, primarily to low-income
elderly and/or people with disabilities who do not qualify for Medicaid.
The programs offer savings paid for by the states government. Two
organizations list details of each states program: the Medicare
Rights Center (www.medicarerights.org,
go to Medicare Basics, Help Paying for Prescription Drugs) and the National
Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org/programs/health/drugaid.htm),
which requires a no-cost online registration.
drug discount cards
Prescription drug discount cards have existed for years, but we have heard
more about them lately as certain cards are approved for Medicare beneficiaries
as a short-term component of the Medicare Modernization Act. Then go to www.medicare.gov
for application specifics. Other drug discount card programs exist. They
are membership programs that anyone can join for an annual fee. Typically,
discounts are available for members at participating pharmacies only.
Some cards also offer
discounts on other health services by participating
providers only. Often marketed using insurance terminology, these programs
are not health insurance plans. Some are listed below. The Medicare
Rights Center also provides a list on their Web site www.medicarerights.org
Membership fees vary, as do
the discount amounts. Be a good consumer by comparing prices, other benefits,
and convenience. If the participating pharmacies are not nearby, do they
deliver, and for how much?
www.affordablehealthcard.com or 800-214-0611.
A nationwide discount program for member individuals, groups, and seniors.
The participating providers include physicians, hospitals, pharmacies,
dental and vision specialists, and more.
Members receive discounts at participating dental, chiropractic, pharmacy,
and optical care providers.
Members receive discounts on brand name and generic drugs at participating
Members receive discounts at participating pharmacies.
Members receive discounts at participating pharmacies
discounts at participating pharmacies
Together Rx Access
Nationwide discount card program restricted to those who meet income
guidelines and have no other prescription drug coverage. Discounts on
approximately 275 prescription drugs manufactured by ten leading companies,
no membership fee.
Should you buy
drugs abroad or online?
of going to another country, particularly Canada, to fill a prescription
at lower cost (known as importation if the drug is manufactured
abroad, or reimportation if originally manufactured in the
United States), has become increasingly popular among people with high
prescription drug needs. Even state governments are doing it.
Although the U.S.
attorney general has stated that Americans who individually import their
medicines from overseas will not be prosecuted, the practice is considered
illegal. The FDA warns that it cannot guarantee the safety or effectiveness
of any prescription medication that is beyond the reach of its regulatory
The National MS Society
urges people who are considering buying their drugs online within the
U.S. or abroad to first review the FDAs information at www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline
To do price comparisons
online, try www.destinationrx.com.
Calder is the manager of Insurance Initiatives at the National MS