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Save money on your prescription medications

FEB 2014

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Comparison shopping, assistance programs, and prescription price finders can help.

Are you getting the cheapest deal when you buy your medications? A better price is often available without your knowing it. "A little digging is all it takes to find out. But people hear that a copay is high, and they walk away without getting the drug," says Laura Carr, a pharmacist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Health insurance may cover part of your prescription costs. But if you have a high deductible, it's worth shopping around. Here are some tips:

Comparison shop

You may be able to get a better deal by calling a few pharmacies for price checks before dropping off your prescription. That's because medication prices vary widely among pharmacies. Some pharmacies get their drugs from a wholesaler, which has purchased the drugs from the manufacturer. But other pharmacies are able to buy directly from the manufacturer and offer lower prices. So a store on one corner may have better prices than the store on the opposite corner.

Use big box stores

Walmart, Target, Kmart, and a number of grocery stores (Kroger, Publix) offer 30- and 90-day supplies of dozens of generic drugs for as little as $4 and $10. You can ask the pharmacies at these stores for a list of these drugs. Then, show your doctor the list and ask if one of the inexpensive options is right for you.

Join a program

Large drug makers such as Eli Lilly (855-559-8783) and Pfizer (866-706-2400) offer prescription assistance programs. "These are good because in many instances they'll provide free medications to the patient. They may also offer coupons for discounts on medications," says Joanne Doyle Petrongolo, another MGH pharmacist. These programs usually have income and eligibility requirements. Nonprofit referral services such as NeedyMeds (800-503-6897) and the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (888-477-2669) are good places to start.

Get a policy update

If you're on the Medicare part D plan, ask your pharmacist for a part D annual report. "Each year everything changes—the premiums, copays, and deductibles. Your pharmacist has your medication list and can plug in your medications and figure out which plan is the best for you. You can also do it on your own by going to medicare.gov," says Doyle Petrongolo.

Use the Internet

Numerous prescription price finders are available for free on the Internet. All that's required is your ZIP code and the drug you're looking for. Type those into a search box, and it will display the drug's retail price at all pharmacies in your area.

Online prescription drug finder programs are available through the attorney general's office in many states, such as Florida (www.myfloridarx.com) and Michigan (www.michigandrugprices.com). There are also dozens of free Internet and smartphone programs you can use or download, such as WeRx (www.werx.org) and Lowestmed (www.lowestmed.com). For example, using WeRx, we plugged in the information for the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin (Mevacor, Altocor). Prices at various stores popped up immediately, ranging from $5 to $46. ?