Many Americans, even those who have insurance coverage, spend more than they need to on prescription medications, says Consumer Reports. Those who regularly take a prescription drug spent an average of $758 a year, according to its 2012 Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs annual prescription drug poll.
Here’s how to keep more money in your pocket and still get effective and safe treatments for what ails you:
• Try an over-the-counter drug for some problems. For certain common conditions — heartburn, insomnia, seasonal allergies, migraine headaches, joint pain — a treatment you already have in your medicine cabinet might work as well as a prescription drug. Why? Many over-the-counter (OTC) drugs were once prescription-only. Those OTC drugs might be less expensive than prescription drugs for the same condition, and many are now available as low-cost generic store brands.
• Skip OTCs for others. Some over-the-counter remedies should be used only after a trip to the doctor. Others don’t work well enough to justify the risk of side effects. Two examples:
Overactive bladder. The Oxytrol patch, previously a prescription-only drug, will become available this fall as an over-the-counter product for women with that condition. As with all drugs in its class, Oxytrol (oxybutynin) is only moderately effective at relieving symptoms and can cause dry mouth and constipation. Consumer Reports’ medical advisers caution against treating yourself for an overactive bladder without first seeing a physician for a diagnosis. The symptoms, which include incontinence and a frequent need to urinate, can stem from other conditions, including an infection and tumors, and medications for other conditions, such as those for high blood pressure.
Multiple symptom cold remedies. A multisymptom cold reliever might not provide the relief you seek and could cause side effects. For example, only a single active ingredient in Vicks DayQuil Cold & Flu might actually do you much good: the pain reliever acetaminophen, which can help lower fever, reduce sore throat and ease body aches. The other two ingredients — the cough suppressant dextromethorphan and the decongestant phenylephrine — don’t work that well. Instead, you’re better off listening to Mom about getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
• Don’t automatically use your insurance. Really. Hundreds of commonly used generic medications can be purchased for as little as $10 for a three-month supply at major chain drugstores, big-box stores and club stores in the U.S. Even drugs usually covered by your insurance might be less expensive if you pay cash instead.
• Shop the shelves. When you’re hunting for OTC drugs, make sure you cast a wide net. For the best deals, look at end-of-aisle displays, to the right of the name brands, on the lower shelves, under a clearance or sale sign and next to a related item. On your phone, you can look up ingredients and product alternatives or comparison-shop.
• Take advantage of the new health care law. The Affordable Care Act includes several provisions that can cut your drug costs now and in the future:
Coverage for young adults. All health plans must now allow young adults to remain on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26, so they can continue to receive coverage for prescription medication.
Cheaper drugs for Medicare Part D. Seniors with Part D plans who reach a total drug cost of $2,970 in 2013, also known as the doughnut hole, have to start paying prescription drug expenses themselves. But now once they reach it, they’ll get a 52.5 percent discount when buying most brand-name drugs and a 21 percent discount on generic drugs covered by Part D.
Free preventive care. New private plans will cover and eliminate cost-sharing (co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles) for proven preventive measures. For women, they include breast-feeding supplies and contraception, as well as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings. For everyone, routine vaccines are covered, and depending on your age, colorectal cancer screenings.