Nearly half of Americans take at least one prescription drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s a lot of trips to the pharmacy, requiring the expense of both time and money.
Aravinda Thatte, PhD, a pharmacist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers, provides expert advice on effective methods to save both money and time, and also offers tips on the questions to ask when filling a prescription.
How to save money
- Find out if a generic version of your medicine is available. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved more than 10,000 generic options for brand-name drugs to provide high-quality, effective medications at considerably lower prices. By asking “Is there a generic?” you give yourself the greatest opportunity to save money. If the answer is no, the pharmacist can ask your doctor to prescribe a suitable generic alternative.
- Confirm that your drug is on formulary. A formulary (commonly referred to as a drug list) is a list of prescription drugs covered by a specific health plan, which contains both name brand and generic drugs. You will pay a set copay on formulary drugs. If the drug is not on the list, the copay is usually higher.
- Shop around. Medication costs can vary at different pharmacies, depending on how the prescription plan is contracted and whether the plan has a deductible.
How to save time
- Before going to pick up the prescription from the pharmacy, call to find out if it is ready. This will help you avoid any delays due to the pharmacy’s need to order a medication, if the medication needs a prior authorization from the insurance, or simply because the doctor did not yet send your prescription to the pharmacy.
- For prescription refills, ask if the pharmacy offers a program for automatic refill reminders. Also, if you take multiple medications as maintenance therapy, ask if the pharmacy can synchronize all the refills, so that you can conveniently pick up all of your medications in one trip.
- Try not to wait till the last minute to refill medications at the pharmacy. Certain drugs could be out of stock at the pharmacy or local distribution center, or in rare instances, be back-ordered by the manufacturer. Additionally, there is the possibility of recalled batches of drugs due to various reasons, leading to drug shortages that can disrupt therapy.
- Use mail-order pharmacy services, a convenient, cost-effective way to get maintenance medications for chronic, long-term conditions.
What to ask with a new prescription
When picking up a prescription for the first time, speak with your pharmacist about directions for use. You should ask:
- Are there special storage requirements? For example, does the medication need refrigeration or should it be kept out of sunlight?
- Should I take my medication with meals or on an empty stomach?
- Should I take my medication at a specific time of day?
- Are there any drug interactions? (Some medications should not be taken together or should only be used together with close physician monitoring.)
- Are there any food interactions? (With some drugs, you should not eat specific foods.)
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
- What are the common side effects associated with this prescription, and how can I lessen these if they occur?
- What are the possible serious adverse effects that would require a call to my doctor?
- Ask for easy-open caps. If you struggle opening standard drug containers, you can ask your pharmacist for special caps.
- Get a medication reminder tool. If you often forget to take your medication on a regular basis, ask the pharmacy for dosing aids or pillboxes to help.
- Share known allergies with the pharmacist to make sure that the prescriptions you are receiving will not cause any severe allergic reactions.
"Being an informed consumer can prevent some of the challenges that come with filling and taking prescriptions, and help keep you at your healthiest," Thatte says.